AT&T begins offering gigabit Internet service to select Lawrence neighborhoods; south Iowa retailer closing as part of bankruptcy plan
For those of you who want faster Internet speeds at your Lawrence home, here’s something to keep an eye on: AT&T has quietly begun offering gigabit Internet service in a few select Lawrence neighborhoods.
AT&T officials told me that the company recently began offering the service in a couple of newer neighborhoods on the western side of town, but they didn’t give me more precise details. Instead, the company has a website — att.com/gigapower — that allows you to check your address to see if the gigabit service is offered.
Most of you in Lawrence will find that it is not offered, yet. Chris Lester, a spokesman for AT&T, told me the Lawrence project is a more of a testing-of-the-waters type of effort rather than a large scale launch.
“It is in the hundreds,” Lester said of the number of Lawrence homes that are eligible for the super fast broadband speeds.
I realize some of you still may be confused about gigabit. (I saw Tom Silva on "This Old House" use one of them gigabits to drill through titanium bathroom tiles.) Gigabit service is the same type of super fast Internet speed that the much-touted Google Fiber project brought to parts of Kansas City. AT&T notes that with gigabit service that you can do things like download 25 songs in a single second, download your favorite TV show in about 3 seconds, and download an HD movie in about 35 seconds.
Quick download speeds and live streaming of video are a big selling point for the service right now. But home-based businesses that upload lots of content to the Web also have been clamoring for the service. Eventually, people believe the super fast Internet speeds also will lead to consumers having better access to things such as telemedicine, distance learning and other advancements that we haven’t even thought about yet.
If you remember, though, one of the debates at Lawrence City Hall is whether we’re on the cusp of another digital divide. In other words, will only the rich neighborhoods get access to this high-speed broadband service? Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband worked to get an incentives package to install gigabit service in parts of East Lawrence. Commissioners, though, balked at that idea after questions about the financial arrangement kept emerging. Some community leaders have mentioned the idea of the city providing broadband service, which has been done in a few communities. Others, though, have said to be patient and see if the large telecom utilities start offering the service on their own.
That’s why watching what AT&T does next will be important. Company officials didn’t provide me any details on how broadly they may offer the service in Lawrence in the future. But they did note that they have expanded the service in several other communities. The company has announced it is bringing the gigabit service to parts of Wichita, and is expanding its current offerings in the KC metro area to include parts of Belton, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Lee’s Summit and Raymore. The company already offers the service in parts of Fairway, Leawood, Lenexa, Mission Hills, Olathe, Overland Park, Prairie Village and Shawnee.
One thing that seems likely is that Lawrence won’t be forgotten by company officials. AT&T’s Kansas president is a Lawrence resident.
“We think the service will get good use in Lawrence,” said Mike Scott, president of AT&T Kansas. “We certainly will keep our eyes open for other opportunities in Lawrence. We’re looking to expand, but it will depend on the response we get.”
AT&T officials said one of the reasons they chose the particular west Lawrence neighborhoods for the service is because they are newer neighborhoods that were built with fiber optic cable leading to each home. That’s not the case with some older neighborhoods. But as more neighborhoods are built with fiber to the home, the chances of gigabit service being expanded seem to increase. That, however, may lead some to become concerned again about that digital divide question. Will only newly built neighborhoods have that high-speed service?
There certainly has been talk by some companies, though, of retrofitting existing neighborhoods with the needed fiber. That is what is going in Baldwin City by RG Fiber. That Baldwin City-based company has agreements in place to do that type of work in Lawrence as well, but company officials have said Eudora is next on its list for expansion, in part because Eudora helped the company find a route for its key piece of fiber while Lawrence officials got caught up in a broader debate about what type of help it should provide to RG Fiber and Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband. RG Fiber has said it still plans to offer service in Lawrence, but not until it gets underway in Eudora.
As for AT&T’s current project — brand name GigaPower — it is advertising gigabit service for $120 month. That price includes a large package of cable television channels.
• I certainly do hear questions about gigabit service and its availability in Lawrence, but what I hear more frequently are questions about other options for cable television service. It looks like later this year that a significant option is going to arrive in the city.
Perhaps you remember something in the national news about AT&T and DirectTV merging. That happened a few months ago, but last month the combined company made another announcement that I didn’t fully grasp the significance of: AT&T plans on streaming DirectTV content.
What that means is that most of the channels you can get through a DirectTV subscription will be available without having to put up the DirectTV satellite dish. Instead, the channels simply will be delivered to your home through your Internet connection. The Internet connection doesn’t have to be one provided by AT&T. Some pundits are calling it BYOB: Bring your own broadband.
AT&T already offers cable television service in parts of Lawrence through its U-verse service. But that service is available only in select locations of the community. That has meant that WOW continues to be the dominant cable television and broadband provider in the city. But once this new program begins, you could use WOW broadband service to get AT&T cable television service.
The big question, though, is which cable networks will be part of the package. AT&T officials have said the channel offerings will be broad and large. But they haven’t provided details such as whether ESPN and other premium channels will be part of the package. Keep an eye out for those details, because depending on how they develop, Lawrence’s cable television market could be changing significantly.
AT&T plans to roll out the new service in the fourth quarter of this year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited in a hot car outside the Hancock Fabrics location in south Lawrence. I can’t tell you because I usually black out. My water dish usually runs dry before my wife’s fabric shopping spree does.
Well, that scene soon will come to an end. Hancock Fabrics is closing its Lawrence store at 2108 W. 27th St. Those of you who read Town Talk perhaps were prepared for this. We reported in February that the Hancock Fabrics chain filed for bankruptcy protection and was closing 70 stores. The Lawrence store was not on that list of 70 store closures. But we also noted that there was speculation that the bankruptcy process would take a nasty turn and become a complete liquidation.
That is indeed what has happened. Great American Group, a company that specializes in liquidating failing businesses, ended up with the winning bid in the bankruptcy auction for Hancock. Great American Group has announced that it will close all 185 stores in the Hancock chain.
Going-out-of-business signs showed up in Lawrence over the weekend, and the store has begun discounting its merchandise. The company said it expects the going-out-of-business sales to last for “several weeks” before all the merchandise is gone.
Free State Brewing Company creates new beer series; AT&T expanding broadband service; City Hall creates new online public forum
I don’t think I have to wear Spandex to drink this new beer from Lawrence-based Free State Brewing Company, but perhaps I shouldn’t take any chances. Free State has announced it has created a new limited-release brew in honor of the Dirty Kanza 200, a 200-mile bike ride along the gravel roads of the Flint Hills.
Free State has released its Dirty Kanza Kolsch as part of its new Front Porch Series. Unlike past limited-edition releases, the Dirty Kanza Kolsch has been released in bottles, and it is available at liquor stores across the region.
It is part of a new effort by Free State to showcase its brewing talents through the new Front Porch series. The downtown restaurant-based brewery long has created special, limited-edition brews that have been sold by the glass or by the keg at the restaurant. But the company’s East Lawrence bottling plant and brewery has not done as much with the specialty brews.
Free State founder Chuck Magerl told me the company plans to release six to seven specialty beers per year as part of its Front Porch Series. The new series is another sign of the company’s growing success in the bottled beer market. For some, it may seem like Free State has been a staple on the shelves of liquor stores forever. But the company is still relatively new in the bottled beer market.
It was five years ago this month that Free State began producing bottled beer out of its Lawrence production center. Back then, the bottled brew mainly was being sold in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City markets. But it wasn’t long before the company had a presence in every Kansas county that has a liquor store. Today, the company is in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and soon will restart distribution in Nebraska as it switches distribution companies.
The company’s bottling plant near 19th and Haskell, which employs 14 people, is now producing about 10,000 barrels a year, up from less than 3,000 barrels in its first year. Magerl said he thinks the company’s region of distribution “will be a little bit greater” in the future, but Magerl said he’s still not trying to position Free State as regional brewer that goes national, much like how Kansas City-based Boulevard has done.
“We want to find that scale that works well,” Magerl said. “We want to remain in close contact with our customers. We don’t want to feel like we have to go coast to coast.”
As for the newest Free State creation, the Dirty Kanza Kolsch is being described as a classic German style beer that has a light body. (I can also report it doesn't stain the Spandex, although it unfortunately doesn't eliminate chaffing, either.) The beer is further described as having a "bready malt aroma," and Saphir hops that provide a hint of spiciness and a slightly herbal character. I know what you’re thinking. It would take a full herbal character to get you to go on a 200-mile bike ride. But don’t worry, you don’t have to sign up for the Dirty Kanza 200 to get access to the beer, although the bike event has plenty of takers.
The Dirty Kanza is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event, held the first weekend after Memorial Day, starts and finishes in downtown Emporia. It takes riders along a challenging course through the Flint Hills that has riders climbing up and down about 10,000 feet of terrain surrounded by the largest remaining tract of tall grass prairie in the world. Bikers work to complete the event in less than 20 hours. The event has become one of the premiere “gravel grinder” biking events in the entire country.
“It’s truly emerging as a legendary event in Kansas,” Magerl said. “We’re honored to play a small role contributing to the celebration.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• It will be interesting to watch whether all the talk about the need for gigabit, high-speed broadband service in Lawrence causes AT&T to become more aggressive in the market. There are signs that it will. The giant telecom has announced that Lawrence now has its AT&T Business Fiber service. That service provides Internet upload and download speeds of 300 megabits per second to business customers.
The service, however, is not available community-wide. The company says it currently can offer the service to about 50 multi-tenant office buildings across the city. I don’t have more specifics on exactly where the service is available in Lawrence. Your best bet for more information is to go to website corp.att.com/businessfiber/ and enter your address to see if the service is available.
Chris Lester, a spokesman for AT&T, said he expects the availability of the service to grow in Lawrence.
“Typically when we launch something like this, once you are green in the market, it tends to grow,” Lester said. “This is just the initial launch. I’m pretty confident it will expand.”
The company also is expressing optimism that the business fiber service eventually will be scaled up to a full gigabit service. At 300 megabits per second, though, the service is still pretty fast. Lester notes that with 300 megabit service, you can download 25 songs in three seconds, download two hours of high definition video in two minutes, and restore one terabyte of data in the cloud in seven hours compared to about seven days with more traditional copper-line based Internet service.
We’ll see what comes next from AT&T. We’ll also see what comes next from Lawrence City Hall. The City Commission has passed its fiber policy that spells out how companies can lease unused fiber cable from the city. But that policy by itself doesn’t do anything to bring the gigabit service to town. It will be interesting to what the new commission does to try to get a project started in town.
• You now have a new way to spend some time online: Telling Lawrence City Hall what it ought to do. The city has created a new section of its website called Lawrence Listens. Go to lawrenceks.org/lawrence-listens to check it out.
Basically, the section will be an online public forum to communicate with city commissioners and other city officials. City leaders plan to post some questions on the website to get the discussion started. For example, the question they currently are posing is: What do you think should be Lawrence’s top three priorities for the coming year?
Staff members plan on monitoring the responses, and will provide them to city commissioners during budget hearings. Part of the idea is that the city wants to provide a forum for people who may not feel comfortable going to a City Commission meeting. The site does require you to register, and asks for a bit of basic information, such as your email address, although you can also sign in via your Facebook account.
Wicked Broadband launches super-fast Internet portals ahead of city vote; AT&T brings security service to Lawrence
We are entering that time period where the entire U.S. economy becomes highly dependent on super-fast Internet service. Of course, I’m talking about the fantasy football season, and your ability to quickly drop Kansas City Chiefs players off your roster as they hurt themselves tying their shoelaces. Well, perhaps there are other reasons for gigabit broadband, and now Lawrence residents have a new place to try the super-fast service.
Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband on Sunday launched a new gigabit demonstration site at Z’s Devine Espresso at 23rd and Harper streets. If you are confused about what gigabit service is, it is the same type of super-fast Internet service that Google Fiber is installing in the Kansas City metro. (Now you, too, can download SUV reviews as fast as they do in Johnson County.) Wicked plans to have a second demo site operational — perhaps by the end of today — at the Good Eats restaurant, which you may remember as the former site of the Basil Leaf Cafe near Sixth and Fireside in West Lawrence. Wicked has offered gigabit service at several apartment complexes and other locations around town for some time now, but hasn't been able to widely deploy the service.
But that may change. Get ready to start hearing more about gigabit service in Lawrence. City commissioners are expected to have a vote soon on whether to provide a $1 million loan guarantee to Wicked Broadband to help the company install a pilot project that would bring the super-fast Internet to about 1,200 households primarily in downtown and East Lawrence.
If you remember, the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee back in May recommended the city provide the $1 million loan guarantee and waive several permit and development fees related to the project. But the recommendation from the committee came on a split 3-2 vote, and the issue never had made its way to the full City Commission. But Wicked Broadband co-owner Josh Montgomery said he’s now been told the City Commission plans to hear the issue at its Sept. 9 meeting. (City officials are telling me that date isn't yet set in stone.)
It is still unclear whether the plan has the necessary votes for approval from the commission. Two city commissioners are on the PIRC board, and they were split on the issue. Mayor Mike Amyx voted against the $1 million loan recommendation, while Commissioner Jeremy Farmer supported the plan.
The way the $1 million loan guarantee would work is that Wicked would secure private financing for the project, but if Wicked were to default on the loan, the city would guarantee payment to the bank. In such a scenario, the city would become the owner of the gigabit network installed by Wicked.
But it seems clear that there is also another financial issue for the city to consider. The $1 million project is just a pilot project. Getting gigabit service to 1,200 homes is not the ultimate goal. Montgomery said he believes the pilot project will be successful, and will allow his company to raise about $10 million in private funding for a phase II project that would add 10,000 more homes. Financing for a third phase to add the rest of the city would then follow. It seems that city officials will have to determine whether they believe a successful pilot project will indeed open up that type of private financing, or whether it is likely that any future phases will require public financing.
If the pilot project is approved, Montgomery said he expects construction work to begin in the spring. Current plans call for gigabit service to start at $99 per month. Montgomery also had previously announced that he planned to begin offering video television services through his network across town. He previously described it as 94-channel system that would include all the normal channels available on most cable systems. The service was supposed to be available in June, but Montgomery told me today that he has put that project on hold until he sees whether the city will support the pilot project.
As for the demonstration project at Z’s Divine Espresso, the gigabit service is part of the free hotspot at the coffee shop, so you don’t have to pay a fee to access the service. But you do need either a smartphone or a laptop that has the right equipment to take full advantage of the gigabit speed. In case you are scoring at home, I’m told that is a an 802.11ac enabled-device, which is common on many of the newer smartphones and laptops. But that is just what I’m told. I’m not up on all of this. Heck, I’m just now learning my plan to start Chief’s wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in Week 1 apparently has gone up in smoke.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Here’s another company to keep an eye on when it comes to plans for super-fast Internet service: AT&T. The telecommunications giant was one of four companies that responded in March to the city’s request for proposals on gigabit Internet service. Back then, AT&T said Lawrence was on the list of cities it was studying for gigabit service. Then, not much happened. But it is worth noting that AT&T earlier this month did sign an agreement with the city of Overland Park to begin providing gigabit service to that Johnson County community.
I talked with AT&T spokesman Chris Lester recently, and he said there is still no update on what AT&T may be thinking about Lawrence and the possibility of gigabit service.
AT&T is making news on another front in Lawrence, however. On Friday, AT&T launched Digital Life home security and automation service in Lawrence. The service is basically a home security system that can be upgraded to make your home more automated as well. What do I mean by that? No, I don’t think it has a function that will take out the trash for you, but it does have functions that allow you to close your garage door via your wireless phone or tablet. It also has functions that allow you to use your wireless devices to lock and unlock doors, detect water leaks, control your thermostat, and view security videos of your home.
“If you are a professional who travels a lot, we think it is a pretty interesting product to have,” Lester said. “Or, if you are parents with latch-key kids, it has some nice features. Whenever some one comes to your door, it will take a picture and send you a text with that picture.”
Unlike AT&T’s U-Verse service, which is available only in select areas of Lawrence, Lester said the Digital Life service will be available citywide. Lawrence is the 82nd city in the country that AT&T has launched the service. It looks like this is becoming quite the trend with telecommunications and broadband companies. I also got word that the cable company in Baldwin City — Mediacom Broadband — also launched a similar service there last week.
• UPDATE: At a Kansas City Area Development Council event this evening, the New Zealand-based animal health company Simcro announced it will locate its North American Headquarters in Lawrence. The firm will locate in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus. The release says the company will begin hiring new employees immediately, but doesn't provide any details on the number of new employees. Sources have told me job totals initially will be minimal, but will be high-paying positions. I'll try to get you more details on Tuesday.
I’m keeping my ears open for a possible announcement regarding a new animal health sciences company that may locate its headquarters in Lawrence. What I hear at the moment is the number of jobs initially may not be large, but area officials are excited about the company nonetheless because it helps with the community’s efforts to build up a base of animal health sciences companies. This entire area between Columbia, Mo., and Manhattan is being touted as the world’s leading corridor for animal health science companies, and Lawrence leaders are getting more interested all the time in being part of that movement. They are finding that there are a good number of companies that want to be next to Kansas University’s nationally-ranked pharmacy school because much of the research that the pharmacy school does on human health can also be transferred to the animal health field too. My understanding is this latest prospect is interested in locating in the expanded bioscience and technology incubator on KU’s West Campus, which is right across the street from the pharmacy school. Hopefully I’ll have more details for you soon.
Costlier, slower, more limited: It is bringing back memories of the teacher comment section on my report cards.
Well, this is a report card of sorts, and "costlier, slower, more limited" is the key phrase in a new study of the city’s Internet broadband market. A consulting team hired by Lawrence City Hall found that the current broadband offerings in Lawrence generally are “costlier, slower and more limited than in other comparable communities.”
Fixing that situation, however, won’t be easy. Every once in a while the idea of the city owning and operating its own high-speed Internet broadband network is brought up. In other words, the city would jump into the Internet service provider market, and compete with the likes of Knology, AT&T and others. But the city would do it with high-speed, fiber-optic cable that runs directly to homes and businesses, as opposed to the slower, more traditional copper telephone and cable lines that serve much of Lawrence.
The idea is a recurring dream for technology geeks. But the latest numbers indicate it may be nothing more than a dream for quite some time. The consultants, CTC Technology & Energy, estimate that it will cost upwards of $70 million to build and deploy such a system in the city. That’s not an impossible number — it's about $25 million more than what the city is spending for a library and a recreation center — but the consultants are urging caution in the matter. Their analysis indicates the city would have to capture at least 50 percent of the entire market share in Lawrence to break even. That would be a tough number to reach, the consultants predict.
But there are other ways the city can make itself a more desirable high-speed Internet city – which not surprisingly, the consultants said will be very important in the future. Here’s a look at some of the recommendations:
• The city could spend around $320,000 to $640,000 to complete a 17-mile ring of fiber-optic cable around the city. The fiber would allow city, county, school and university facilities access to higher-speed Internet connections. The consultants say that alone is worth the cost of the project. But if built in the right way, excess capacity on the fiber ring could be leased out to private companies that have an interest in competing against the two large Internet providers in the city — AT&T and Knology. The report found there are at least three companies that have expressed an interest in such an idea: Level 3, Kansas Fiber Network and Wicked Broadband, which already leases some fiber from the city.
• New development regulations could be written that would require builders to install more fiber-optic infrastructure as a part of their projects. Loma Linda, Calif., has created development regulations that require “cable pathways, fiber connections and internal fiber wiring” be installed as part of any major residential or commercial building project. Sandy, Ore., goes even further. It requires developers to install conduit all the way from the public right-of-way to the home, and then deed that conduit to the city. The idea is that when fiber-optic projects reach a neighborhood, the most expensive part of the process already will be complete, courtesy of developers. The report estimates any new regulations would be a “small burden” to developers. We would see about that, but usually new regulations for developers produce something a bit larger than a “small debate” at City Hall.
• Sucking up to Google may be a good idea. The Google Fiber project in Kansas City is all the buzz in the tech world. The consultants said the city should at least make a more serious effort to have Google consider expanding the project to Lawrence. Google recently did announce that it was expanding the service to Olathe. The consultants reached out to the community manager for the Google Fiber project, and she asked that the city send a formal letter of interest to enter into discussions with Google about an expansion.
As for what the report had to say about Lawrence’s existing broadband providers, it wasn’t much different than what many ordinary folks say. The report found AT&T’s offerings are more limited than in several other comparable communities. With Knology, the consultants found the company’s base pricing is reasonably competitive with other markets, but its use of data caps on many plans makes it less competitive. The report didn’t provide any analysis of the recently-announced pilot project by Wicked Broadband to extend fiber to at least one neighborhood in Lawrence.
The report made several other recommendations and findings, but they were of a technical nature that went beyond my “costlier, slower and more limited” mind.
City commissioners will get a chance to digest the report soon. The City Commission is expected to formally receive the report and discuss possible next steps in the next several weeks.