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Four companies express interest in bringing superfast broadband service to city; Wicked has plans to launch cable TV service in Lawrence by June


And you thought the fight over the remote control during the NCAA Tournament was going to be fierce. Well, it looks like another type of technology battle is brewing at Lawrence City Hall.

Four technology companies are interested in undertaking a multimillion-dollar project to bring super-fast Internet service to Lawrence, on par with what Google Fiber is doing in Kansas City. But, no, Google Fiber is not one of the companies interested.

If you remember, the city in February issued a request for information from companies interested in partnering with the city on establishing an enhanced broadband network in the community. Four companies responded: Lawrence-based Wicked Fiber, which previously has operated as Lawrence Freenet; Baldwin City-based Free State Broadband; national giant AT&T; and ISG Technology and Twin Valley Telephone, which operates a host of largely rural telephone and Internet systems in north-central Kansas.

You can see the full responses here, but here's a quick summary.

— Wicked Fiber: The company, owned by Lawrence school board member Kris Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery, got this process started months ago. Wicked was seeking a $500,000 economic development grant from the city, plus the waiver of multiple city fees, in exchange for undertaking a $1 million pilot project that would bring 1 gigabit broadband service to downtown and much of East Lawrence. City commissioners balked at approving Wicked's request, and instead put the call out for more information.

Wicked's proposal is largely unchanged from those terms, although more details have been provided. Those details include Wicked now is asking the city to also underwrite its $500,000 loan it will need to build the pilot project. The company also is estimating that it will cost about $30 million to build a high-speed broadband network for the entire community. The company is projecting that once the pilot project is successful, it will be able to raise $10 million in equity financing and secure $20 million in long-term debt to build the project.

The company also is highlighting that the network it would build in Lawrence would have the capacity to host other Internet service providers. In other words, Wicked could use the system, but so could somebody like Google Fiber or another provider. Other providers would pay Wicked a publicly listed wholesale price to use the network. Wicked also is suggesting that the city receive 5 percent of all gross revenues generated by the broadband network. Wicked says such a system will promote competition and thus benefit consumers.

— Free State Broadband. The company currently is working on a project to bring advanced broadband service to Baldwin City. As part of that deal, the company has some agreements with the city of Lawrence that will run fiber through Lawrence to serve the Baldwin City customers.

Free State officials said they currently are conducting market studies to determine the feasibility of bringing high-speed Internet, phone and video service to Lawrence. If feasible, the company would want to expand its current licensing agreement with the city to include access to existing fiber optic lines that the city already owns. Free State is estimating that it will cost nearly $70 million to build a high-speed network that could serve the entire community. That's far different than the $30 million estimate from Wicked Fiber. I don't have the technical ability to compare the two estimates, but it seems that will be one of the big issues city officials will have to figure out.

Free State is not asking for a $500,000 economic development grant, but it does want an "easily accessible lot and a 3,000 square foot building" in the city's new Venture Park, which is the business park that is being developed on the site of the former Farmland Industries property.

— AT&T. The company said Lawrence now is among the cities it is studying to add 1 gigabit Internet service to its offerings. If the company decides to move forward, it said it would be responsible for all the financial requirements of the project. The help it would seek from the city would include: a dedicated city staff member who would work as a coordinator for the project; a joint community education program with the city; access to the city's infrastructure, including light poles, traffic signals and city buildings; city assistance to negotiate a deal with Westar Energy to allow AT&T access to some of Westar's infrastructure, such as power poles; a waiver of certain city permits, or an expedited review of city permits.

AT&T would build any Lawrence network in phases, and would select areas for service based on "neighborhoods in which demand is expected to compensate for the cost to deploy" the network.

— ISG/Twin Valley. Twin Valley touts itself as the largest privately owned communications company in Kansas. ISG is a subsidiary of Twin Valley, and is a "data center and IT infrastructure partner." In addition to operating a fiber optic network in north central Kansas, the company is highlighting a partnership with Columbia, Mo., where ISG provides broadband and data center services by using a fiber optic network that is owned by the city of Columbia.

The city of Lawrence owns a significant amount of fiber optic cable in the community, and all the respondents have indicated an interest in accessing that fiber optic network.

ISG/Twin Valley was not specific in what assistance it may require from the city. The company's proposal stated it wanted to "collaborate and further discuss" the city's goals.

As I mentioned, Google Fiber did not submit a proposal to the city. City officials have told me they made sure Google Fiber was aware that the city was seeking information from technology companies. There was one other notable company that didn't submit a proposal: WOW, which is currently the largest cable and Internet provider in the city.

I don't yet have a timeline for when the city will evaluate these proposals and make a decision about how to proceed. But I would think the process will get started relatively soon.

In the meantime, I've got plenty to figure out with securing this remote control. All right, I have the log chain attached to my wrist. I've got the chain attached to the remote. I'm set . . . oh, crud. Is that an acetylene torch she has?

In other news and notes from around town:

• There was an interesting side issue brought up in Wicked Fiber's proposal to the city. Company officials stated in the proposal that Wicked plans to begin offering a robust package of cable television service, beginning in June.

The proposal states "Wicked Broadband has entered into an agreement to provide television services to Lawrence. The company is in the process of launching its first TV product, which is expected to debut in June of 2014." That language leads me to believe that the service isn't dependent upon the company receiving incentives from the city, but I've got a call into Wicked officials to confirm that and other details.

The proposal goes on to say that one service will be a 27-channel service for $19.99 a month. A second service will offer 94 channels for $49.99 a month. The proposal includes a list of channels. They appear to be your standard major channels, although the plan currently does include premium channels such as HBO and Showtime.

Another detail I'm hoping to confirm is whether the service will be available citywide or only in select areas. Currently, Wicked provides service to more than 3,000 residents in the city, it says, with many of them at apartment complexes and greek living houses. I'll let you know if I hear more.

Look below for a list of the proposed channels.

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  • Comments

    Joshua Montgomery 3 years, 10 months ago

    That is actually a pretty interesting link. The page showing all of the filings is much more interesting ( http://goo.gl/kEt1E0 ).

    I don't think most folks in Lawrence know how hard the local cable provider and the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association fought to keep Wicked Broadband from building a fiber network here in Lawrence. They fought us from day one.

    It was a lot of fun winning that case and later destroying KCTA's proposed legislation limiting municipal authority ( KS SB 304 ) under a national spotlight. ( http://goo.gl/zGc0rx )

    Lori Nation 3 years, 10 months ago

    Wicked broadband was super slow when we had it. Their customer service skills were horrible. We have had no problems at all with WOW. And what company only provides just East Lawrence, shouldn't it be city wide?

    Alexander Turing 3 years, 10 months ago

    "I have been a customer of [Wicked Broadband] now for almost 3 years now. During that time I have found their level of customer service to be almost beyond compare......when is the last time you had a company take the initiative to fix a problem BEFORE you contacted them?" - Derek F.

    To see this letter in its entirety please visit the link below: http://www.wickedfiber.com/letters/Derek_Felch-City_Commission.pdf

    Lori Nation 3 years, 10 months ago

    We lived on the southwest side of town we had really slow service. We always had to call and vomplain. Finally they just gave up because they can't keep customers happy except on the East side of town. They need to really step up their game if they want this. If I had to vote it would not not be for them.

    Alexander Turing 3 years, 10 months ago

    "We are writing to strongly support the service that Wicked Broadband has given us. They are prompt and highly qualified broadband providers. They provide courteous and helpful customer support and we are very satisfied with the quality of their technical services.

    Please give this small, local group a chance to help our community. They deserve your support." - Joleen and Robert B.

    3804 Park Place Lawrence, KS 66049

    To see this letter in its entirety please visit the link below: http://wickedfiber.com/letters/JoleenandBob_Bechtel-City_Commission.pdf

    Commenting has been disabled for this item.