Baldwin City firm plans to start offering gigabit Internet service in Lawrence in early 2016; vehicle accident blamed for WOW Internet woes; Wheat State Pizza closes in Lawrence
A company that is installing super fast broadband service in Baldwin City today, says it likely will begin offering the service in Lawrence in early 2016.
Baldwin City-based RG Fiber is close to signing a lease agreement with the city of Lawrence that will give the company access to a ring of city-owned fiber optic cable that is needed to launch a gigabit broadband service in Lawrence.
City commissioners are scheduled to approve the lease agreement as part of their consent agenda on Tuesday evening. Mike Bosch, chief executive of RG Fiber, said that’s one of the last pieces of paperwork needed for his company to start a major broadband project in Lawrence. Bosch has begun accepting preregistrations for gigabit service at rgfiber.com/signup.
If this lease agreement with the city is one of the final pieces needed for the Lawrence project, you may be wondering why work won’t begin until at least 2016. The simple answer is because Bosch is busy making Baldwin City king of the Douglas County digital world. RG Fiber currently is installing fiber in Baldwin City. We have an article in today’s Journal-World about how Baker University will have the super-fast broadband service everywhere from classrooms to dorm rooms. Baker University students are surely destined to rule the world for awhile because they’ll have enough broadband to simultaneously watch YouTube, update on Facebook, post on Twitter and do something called Hulu. (What? I don’t have to shake my hips like that when I say Hulu? You’re sure it doesn’t have something to do with a hula hoop?)
Baker is expected to have the service within the first two weeks of August, and then customers in other parts of the town will be hooked up. After the Baldwin City project is well along, Bosch will start hooking up homes and businesses in Eudora in late 2015. Then, Lawrence will get its chance. That’s right, Lawrence is the largest city in the county, but we’re third on this list. RG Fiber tried to get a lease agreement with the previous Lawrence city commission that would have allowed the Lawrence project to get started quicker, but that deal moved slower than my Miss Pac-man game connected to dial-up.
The new group of city commissioners elected in April restarted those lease talks with RG Fiber. Bosch said he’s now confident the Lawrence project will happen.
“People are genuinely excited about getting this in Lawrence,” Bosch said. “They can see that Baldwin City is a real thing. They know it wasn’t just talk.”
Bosch said the number of signups he receives in Lawrence will play a role in where the company decides to offer the service in the city. He said the most likely locations to be involved in the first phase of the project are neighborhoods near major city streets that already have city-owned fiber in the rights-of-way. Those streets include: Sixth, Clinton Parkway, 23rd Street, Wakarusa and parts of Iowa between Sixth and 23rd streets.
The project will include more than just gigabit Internet service, which is the same speed of service the much ballyhooed Google Fiber project is delivering in parts of Kansas City. In addition to the gigabit service, RG also will offer video cable television packages and phone service, Bosch said. The company is marketing those services in Baldwin City currently. Bosch said he’s still working on a pricing plan for Lawrence, but expects gigabit service to run around $85 to $90 per month. If you want to bundle Internet, television and phone, that service likely would start at about $170 per month.
It will be interesting to watch how this project develops in the coming months. There certainly has been some skepticism among some about whether a startup company like RG can actually deliver a working broadband system. By the time the project gets to Lawrence, there should be some indication of how service levels are in Baldwin City and Eudora.
The last group of city commissioners also got bogged down with the question of whether a company like RG Fiber could make this sort of broadband service available throughout the community. That will be a key issue to follow in the years to come. Will the service make its way into lower income portions of the city? Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband had proposed a different type of system to bring gigabit service to Lawrence. It wanted to create a regulatory system called an “open access” network. An open access network would allow multiple providers to use the same sets of fiber optic cables to get service to people’s homes and businesses. But RG and other companies said creating such a regulation would serve as a major disincentive for other broadband providers to invest in Lawrence. A city-hired consultant largely agreed, so the current crop of city commissioners have moved past that idea and allowed the RG project to move forward.
But if a few years go by and the gigabit service is largely contained to just a few prosperous areas of Lawrence, there may be a discussion about whether the city should offer a city-owned broadband service. That would cost tens of millions of dollars to build. But who knows? Maybe by that time there will be something cooler and hipper than gigabit service that occupies our debates.
In other news and notes from around town:
UPDATE: I heard back from Debra Schmidt, local systems manager for WOW in Lawrence. She confirmed this weekend’s outage indeed was one of the larger ones the Lawrence cable/Internet system has experienced in recent years. She estimated about 4,500 accounts were without service at one point or another on Saturday.
As we previously reported, a vehicle accident on Kasold Drive caused the problems. A car hit a utility box that is a major splice point for WOW’s system in Lawrence.
“It probably was the worst damage we’ve ever had to the system,” Schmidt said.
The accident happened a little after 4:30 a.m. on Saturday. WOW responded to the scene shortly thereafter and had a crew of 10 workers on site until about 8 p.m. Saturday.
“I know it seemed long, but I can promise you we were working very hard to make the outage as short as possible,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said most customers had service restored before 8 p.m. Saturday, and she said there are no lingering issues left from the accident.
But WOW is experiencing technical difficulties on another front. Schmidt said last week the company installed new equipment related to its On Demand cable television service. She said that installation has created problems for some customers who are ordering On Demand programs or trying to watch On Demand programs.
A timeline for getting that issued resolved hasn’t been determined yet. She said several engineers are working on that issue currently. Schmidt didn’t have an estimate for the number of customers impacted by that technical difficulty, but she said the problem was not system wide.
• While we’re talking about Internet and cable, it was an eventful weekend for the city’s largest broadband provider, WOW. There have been multiple reports on social media of Internet outages and cable problems that occurred this weekend in Lawrence.
WOW’s Facebook page has a special note to Lawrence customers that says a vehicle accident occurred on Kasold north of Sixth Street about 4:30 a.m. Saturday. (The statement said near Kasold and Fourth Street, which caused my GPS to hiccup, so I’m assuming somewhere north of Sixth Street.) “This accident damaged a significant part of our fiber plant,” according to the statement. “Our crews are on site working diligently to restore service as soon as possible.”
Posts on social media, however, indicate there were some problems with video service prior to that accident. I sent an email to the local manager for WOW over the weekend, and she said she was working on an update of the situation. I reached out to here again this morning and will let you know when I hear more.
• We still have sunflower lapel pins and "Wizard of Oz" tattoos, but there is now one less way to show our Kansas pride. Lawrence’s Wheat State Pizza has closed its doors. As I noted on my Twitter feed late Friday (@clawhorn_ljw) the store’s last day of business was on Sunday.
Wheat State was a Kansas creation that used the state’s most famous crop — wheat — to create a unique pizza crust. The store opened about 11 years ago in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Brad and Jennifer Remington took over the business in 2010. Brad told me the intense competition in the Lawrence restaurant market caused the couple to look for other opportunities.
“There is obviously a lot of competition,” Brad Remington said. “It is not that anybody pushed us out. But we just aren’t really getting ahead in life doing this.”
Remington said the restaurant business is going through a cycle in Lawrence where more new restaurants are opening than the market can immediately support.
“I know a lot of restaurant people in town who are struggling right now,” Remington said. Remington said the ownership of The Malls had been good to work with, but finding successful restaurant locations in Lawrence is becoming more difficult as the restaurant scene becomes more concentrated.
“Eventually, you have to make that decision to move on,” he said. “Unless you are on Mass. or south Iowa Street, it is really difficult to get seen.”
Remington thanked his customers and said he had “made a lot of friends through this place.” Remington said he suspects there are more changes coming in the Lawrence restaurant scene as some other existing firms re-evaluate their position over the next year.
“I almost think the city has to put some sort of limit on how many new restaurants can open up, but I don’t know how the city could really do that,” Remington said. “But there are a lot of good, small, hometown businesses that are having a hard time competing right now.”
As for the future of Wheat State, founder Ryan Murphy continues to own the rights to the Wheat State name and recipes. Murphy told me in an email that he hopes to reopen a Wheat State Pizza in Lawrence at some point in the future. But it sounded like there were no definite plans. Murphy said he may start a crowd-funding campaign in the next few weeks to try to raise some money to open a new store. He said he likely would focus his efforts on finding a downtown location. I’ll let you know if I hear of any progress on that front.
Commissioners concerned about e-mail from Wicked Broadband; WOW introduces faster Internet service; update on cable TV changes in Lawrence
With President Barack Obama in town today, I know it is difficult to think of anything other than presidential politics, and how the free world last night was run from the Lawrence Holiday Inn. But for a moment, let’s tune into some City Commission politics, which have taken a bit of a Washington-like turn.
Two city commissioners are expressing concern about an e-mail they received Wednesday from the leader of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband. Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan, who both are running for re-election, said the e-mail from Wicked co-owner Joshua Montgomery crossed a line by insinuating that Montgomery could deliver nearly 1,200 votes to their campaigns, if the commissioners approve a $300,000 loan guarantee and other city incentives the company is seeking as part of a project to bring gigabit Internet service to part of Lawrence.
“It struck me as being inappropriate,” said Schumm, who was asked about the e-mail after the Journal-World obtained a copy of it Wednesday. “It pushes the envelope to the edge of what is ethical.”
The e-mail’s subject line is “1,184 votes in Lawrence municipal elections.” The e-mail then goes on to inform Schumm and Riordon that Montgomery has been “organizing a block of voters for this upcoming election.” Montgomery wrote that he has 1,184 voters committed to voting in the primary and general elections. He said the main issue that will determine their votes is the idea of a high-speed broadband network in the city.
The e-mail closes by asking Schumm and Riordan to meet with Montgomery to “discuss your position on the issue and how we might be able to work together for the benefit of Lawrence.”
“I think at very best it is very poor judgment,” Riordan told me when I asked him about the e-mail. “I think we need to be honest and above board about this process, so this is concerning.”
Riordan said he has asked the City Attorney to review the e-mail, and determine whether it put him in any untenable position. Riordan said he is now reluctant to even have a one-on-one discussion about the broadband proposal with Montgomery.
“The whole thing looked just too much like a quid pro quo proposition,” Riordan said.
Montgomery said there was nothing inappropriate about the e-mail. He said he wanted Schumm and Riordan — thus far the only two sitting commissioners seeking re-election — to understand that high-speed broadband was going to be a key issue in the upcoming elections. Montgomery said he is organizing a whole contingent of people who aren’t your typical voters in City Commission elections, but are very interested in the community having gigabit Internet service, which is the same type of super-fast broadband service being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City.
“I’m telling you, those people are going to come out and vote this time,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery also didn’t mince any words about his ability to influence the decision of those voters. He said any vote by Schumm or Riordan against Wicked’s proposal will be construed as a vote against high speed broadband service in the city.
Montgomery told me that if Wicked’s proposal fails to win a ‘yes’ vote from Schumm, that “I can guarantee those voters won’t vote for Bob Schumm.” (At this point, I hadn’t yet confirmed Riordan also had received the e-mail, so his name hadn’t come up in the interview.)
I believe I can hear a yawn coming from the president’s Holiday Inn room. (I think he also is upset that he hasn’t been able to find the putt-putt golf course that used to be in the atrium of the hotel, and that some guy in line ahead of him is taking an inordinate amount of sausage gravy from the breakfast bar.) The point being, though, that this type of politics perhaps isn’t that unusual in D.C.
But it is interesting to watch in Lawrence, and I’m curious to see how people react to it. The timing certainly isn’t coincidental. City commissioners are scheduled to again hear Wicked request for incentives at their Tuesday evening meeting. Conventional wisdom holds that Montgomery needs to win a vote from either Schumm or Riordan to have a chance of victory with the commission. Mayor Mike Amyx has pretty much forecasted that he is not going to be able to support the idea of a loan guarantee for the company. Commissioners Mike Dever and Jeremy Farmer both have been more open to the idea. Both Schumm and Riordan have expressed concerns about the proposals at various times.
Schumm reiterated those concerns on Wednesday.
“I want to bring fiber to the city in the worst way,” Schumm said. “It could create a whole new subset of entrepreneurship in the city. I’m just not convinced a loan guarantee is the way to move it forward.”
One other twist in all of this is that Montgomery is the husband of Kristie Adair, who has filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission. Adair, who is currently a Lawrence school board member, also is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband. I didn’t get a chance to chat with Adair Wednesday, but Montgomery said she was not involved in the writing of the e-mail. He said Adair at this point is no longer involved with the day-to-day operations of Wicked Broadband.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re on the subject of faster Internet service, the folks at WOW, the city’s largest Internet service provider, say they now are offering 110 Mbps service in the Lawrence and the surrounding areas that WOW serves.
The 110 Mbps service is more than twice as fast as the 50 Mbps service, which previously was the fastest residential service WOW offered in Lawrence. But it is not as fast as the gigabit service that is being discussed at City Hall. We reported back in September that WOW was going to introduce the faster service sometime in 2015. That announcement came as the city was considering whether to offer incentives to Wicked. WOW’s most recent announcement that service is now beginning comes as the commission is set to discuss those incentives again.
In terms of how much the service will cost, WOW is encouraging people to call a customer service representative because the price varies depending on what type of bundle you are in. When asked to be more specific, a WOW representative told me via e-mail that the service would cost $13.05 more than the 50 Mbps service, which has prices that vary depending on what bundle you are part of. But my understanding, based on a conversation with a customer service rep, is that standalone 50 Mbps internet service costs $99.95 per month, so that would put the new service at $113 per month, if you didn’t want any other services such as cable television or phone.
WOW has launched the faster service in several markets, including Chicago, Detroit and parts of Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The new service should be good for video streaming and households that use multiple devices at once, the company said in a press release.
But it is important to note that the 110 Mbps speed is only for downloading information. Upload speeds are still at 5 Mbps. So, that means you can download a video or large file from a website, for instance, at the very fast speed of 110 Mbps. But if you want to upload a file to a website that will occur at the much slower speed of 5 Mbps. That is different than what has been proposed by Wicked and others who are seeking to bring gigabit service to Lawrence. They are proposing download and upload service that are at gigabit speeds. City officials have said the upload speed is important because that may be critical to attracting more entrepreneurial uses of the high-speed service.
Debra Schmidt, system manager for WOW’s Lawrence operations, said upgrades to the upload speeds are possible in 2015. She said the company is reviewing that issue, but she said it was too early to say whether a change in the service would be made.
• While I was talking to Schmidt I also asked her about some television changes on WOW’s cable network. I know many of you have noticed that KSNT, the NBC affiliate out of Topeka, is no longer on the cable system. Schmidt confirmed that KSNT was dropped after WOW could not reach an agreement with the broadcaster on appropriate re-broadcast fees that were to be paid to KSNT. Schmidt said there are no plans to bring back KSNT. Instead, WOW subscribers can get their NBC programming through KSHB, which is the NBC affiliate in Kansas City. For years, the local cable system has carried both Kansas City and Topeka-based network affiliates. But slowly, the Topeka affiliates have been dropped as the issue of re-broadcast fees has become more challenging for cable systems. Currently, WIBW, the CBS affiliate, is the only Topeka station still on the WOW network. WOW is required by law to carry the Kansas City network affiliates because Lawrence is considered part of the Kansas City television market.
Schmidt also confirmed that 6News, the cable news broadcast produced by WOW, is also going through some changes. WOW has discontinued the standard 10 p.m. Sunday evening news broadcast. It has been replaced with a weather segment and The Drive sports program.
“We are in the process of evaluation our news/weather/sports delivery as we plan for expanded coverage Monday thru Fridays,” Schmidt said in an email.
WOW to increase many cable bills by more than $15 a month; Eudora bests Lawrence in young families ranking
Wow may not be the first word that pops to mind when you get your cable television bills in 2015. WOW — also known as Wide Open West — has announced rate increases that will add $15 to $20 per month to bills of many cable, Internet and telephone subscribers in the area.
Here’s a summary of the rate and fee increases that WOW plans to implement on Jan. 1:
— The company will begin charging a $2 per month “sports surcharge fee.” The fee is designed to help offset some of the money the cable company must pay stations like ESPN and Fox Sports to broadcast their popular channels. Everybody who has cable television service with WOW will pay that fee.
– A $1 per month “local origination programming fee” also will be added to bills.That fee will recover a portion of the costs to produce “community-based” local content. That fee will help offset a portion of the production costs for the local news, weather and sports programming on Channel 6. All cable customers will pay that fee.
— A $5 per month “broadcast TV fee” will be added to bills. That money will help pay the fees WOW pays to local televisions stations such as FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates in Kansas City. Even though those stations are available for free to anyone who has television antennae, federal law requires cable companies to pay for the right to include those stations on their cable systems. Everyone who has cable service will pay that fee.
In case your abacus is broken, that’s $8 a month in new fees for all WOW cable subscribers. Some of you may be thinking that you are sure glad you got a “rate guarantee” from WOW that will forestall those increases. Think again on that point. Debra Schmidt, system manager for WOW’s Lawrence operations, confirmed that these new charges are fees, not rates. That means, she said, people with rate guarantees will see those increases on their bills beginning in January.
There are a couple of other fees that people will pay, depending on what type of service they have. They include:
— A $1.61 per month carrier service fee. That fee helps pay administrative costs related to phone service. Only customers with WOW phone service will pay that fee.
— A $1 per month increase in the cable modem lease fee. Internet subscribers have the option of using their own cable modem or leasing one from WOW. Only Internet subscribers who lease a modem will pay this fee.
— The FCC Network Access Charge will increase $1.30 per month. Only telephone subscribers will pay this fee.
Thus far, everything we have listed has been fee increases. But rates also are going up. This is where it will come in handy to know whether you have a rate guarantee from WOW. As an incentive to sign up, some customers were promised their rates would not increase for a certain number of months. Schmidt said WOW will honor those rate guarantees. But for those of us without a guarantee, we’ll see the following rate increases in January:
— For customers with basic broadcast cable, rates will increase $6 per month.
— For customers with the Apartment Pak/Family Pak cable, rates will increase $7 per month.
— For customers with the Bronze cable, Internet and phone bundle package, rates will increase $8 per month.
— For customers with the Preferred/Silver/Gold bundle package, rates will increase $10 per month.
— For customers who only subscribe to Internet services, rates will increase by $2 per month.
I know, this is a lot like programming your VCR — confusing. The best way for you to know how much your monthly bill is set to increase is to call WOW customer service at 785-841-2100. But I’ll do my best here to present a couple of scenarios.
My understanding is most WOW customers have some sort of bundled plan. If you have the bronze plan, which includes television, phone and Internet service, it looks like you will be paying $8 more per month in rates and $10.91 more per month in fees. That’s an increase of $18.91 per month or just over $225 a year.
If you have a gold or silver plan, it looks like your increase would be $20.91 per month.
“We certainly empathize with our customers,” Schmidt said. “We hate to increase rates.”
Schmidt said this is one of the larger rate increases in recent memory. She said most of the increase is being driven by the tremendous increases in programming fees being charged by sports networks and other cable and broadcast channels. She said sports programming fees last year increased at a rate seven times greater than inflation.
“Our single biggest cost is the one we have the least control over: programming costs,” Schmidt said. “I know that people are sick of hearing that, but it is true.”
She said the cable industry continues to push for some national reforms that would rein in programming costs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Eudora has reason to pound its chest a little bit today. A new study has found that Eudora is the sixth best city in Kansas for young families. The financial Web site NerdWallet has released its annual ranking, and found that Eudora’s combination of schools, housing prices and income growth make it an attractive place to raise a young family. (Hopefully having cheap access to the Disney Channel isn’t part of the calculations. WOW is the dominant cable provider in Eudora, as well.)
Regardless, as a resident of Eudora, I can tell you the city does well when it comes to young families, if doing well means a pack of 11-year-old boys devouring your food pantry after school and a herd of 8-year-old girls regularly busting windows with their daily shrill sessions.
Here’s a look at the top 10:
This is one list that Lawrence did not score well on. Lawrence ranked No. 36 out of the 48 cities included in the study. You might be asking how the six miles between Eudora and Lawrence can equate to 30 places in the survey. In a nutshell, the answer seems to be a combination of cheaper housing, higher incomes and slightly better ranked schools made the difference for Eudora.
Eudora schools received a “Great Schools” rating of 6 out of 10, while Lawrence schools were rated a 5. Median home values in Eudora came in at $145,800 compared with $176,500 in Lawrence. Median monthly homeowner costs were $1,394 in Eudora versus $1,461 in Lawrence. Median household income was $62,576 versus $44,713 in Lawrence. And finally, incomes from 1999 to 2012 grew by 50 percent in Eudora compared with only 28 percent in Lawrence. That’s the one that keeps some Lawrence community leaders up at night, although there were certainly cities that had lower growth rates. Wichita was at 15 percent, Topeka at 12 percent, and Kansas City at 14 percent. None of those cities ranked well as a good place for young families, by the way. Wichita was No. 46, Topeka was No. 41 and Kansas City was last at No. 48.
But one thing that does make Lawrence’s situation a bit unique is the difference between housing costs and incomes. Lawrence had the ninth highest monthly housing costs in the study, but had only the 26th highest income levels. Average Lawrence homeowners are paying 39 percent of their annual incomes in housing costs. In Eudora, for example, the level drops to 26 percent.
Plans for downtown grocery store at former Borders site hit a snag; Just Food celebrates 5-year anniversary; WOW announces another plan to boost Internet speeds
Forget about the hundreds of zombies that will roam downtown Lawrence on Thursday night. (It is the zombie walk, not Royals fans still comatose from Tuesday’s late game.) The really scary sight in downtown Lawrence is the new Halloween store in the former Borders bookstore at Seventh and New Hampshire streets. It is scaring the stuffing out of people who have hoped that the former Borders building would become home to a much-wanted downtown grocery store.
If you remember, we reported about a month ago that the owners of the Lawrence-based Checkers grocery store were in negotiations to open a full-service grocery store in the Borders location. The Halloween store doesn’t kill that possibility — it is only a temporary, seasonal store — but it is a sign that negotiations for a grocery store aren’t progressing like people had hoped.
“We have made several offers to buy or lease the building, but we can’t seem to come to any common ground,” Jim Lewis, the owner of Checkers, told me. “I’ve told our real estate agent that the ball is basically in (the building’s owners') court.”
In other words, the two sides can’t agree on a price or terms for the building. I certainly had heard that Lewis was most interested in buying the building, but I’ve also heard that the ownership group out of Michigan was more interested in a lease.
Lewis said he hasn’t given up on the idea of a downtown grocery store.
“I’m still optimistic, but I can’t tell you a location at this point,” Lewis said. “But my son and I are committed to making something happen down there.”
Lewis said he’s also not giving up on the possibility of striking a deal for the Borders location.
“We’re not saying no on Borders,” Lewis said. “They just haven’t made a decent proposal, in our opinion.”
Lewis said he has begun to look at other locations, but declined to give details on where those might be. Finding another location in downtown is probably not impossible, but it will be difficult. Lewis said he must have a site that can provide ample parking.
“You’re not going to make it just relying on walk-in traffic,” he said.
I have no idea where Lewis may be looking, but one site that comes to mind is 11th and New Hampshire. Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Rand Allen have said they want to redevelop the former Allen Press property. Compton previously has said he wants to build a multistory apartment building with retail on the ground floor. At one point, Compton thought he was close to signing a deal with a national drug store chain — CVS was the likely tenant, I believe — but that was months ago. I’m still hoping to get an update from Compton, but it seems like that project has lost some momentum. Whether a downtown grocery store would work there, I don’t know. The project would have below-ground parking, but whether enough parking could be built to satisfy the needs of apartment residents and a grocery store is unclear to me.
I also think the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District might be an area to keep an eye on. Lawrence businessman Tony Krsnich has a significant amount of property in the district, and he has talked about drawing businesses that would provide more amenities to the growing number of residents in the district. That area isn’t quite downtown, but perhaps it is close enough to satisfy those wanting a downtown grocery store.
I don’t have a good timeline on when Lewis will make some decisions on this issue, so I’ll just keep an ear out.
As for the Halloween store, it is called Halloween Express, and it looks like it has all things Halloween related. You still have plenty of time to become a zombie for tonight’s zombie walk, or even better, perhaps it can help us prepare for the Royals’ playoff games with the Los Angeles Angels. I’m thinking a voodoo doll of Mike Trout would be helpful.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Zombie costumes won’t be the only reason to dress up in downtown Lawrence on Thursday. The folks at the Douglas County food bank Just Food are celebrating their five-year anniversary with a special dinner and fundraising event at Abe & Jake’s Landing. The event also will be celebrating the life of Just Food founder and former dean of the renowned KU School of Social Welfare Ann Weick. Weick died this summer.
Just Food is run by Lawrence City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, and he told me that about 26,000 different Douglas County residents will receive food from the organization in 2014. That’s about 25 percent of Douglas County’s entire population.
“There are a lot of people who are falling through the cracks,” Farmer said.
Farmer said about 60 percent of Just Food’s clients are people who make more money than is allowed for food stamps and other such government assistance. He said Thursday's event, which is sold out, is meant in part to help people better understand the people who need help putting food on the table.
“There are a lot of false perceptions out there about people who need some assistance,” Farmer said. “These people a lot of times are working two or three jobs.”
Farmer said the event also is meant to honor the role that Weick had in founding Just Food. Farmer said he’s learned that Weick had the idea of a locally run food bank on her mind for a good 20 years before the opportunity every arose to get the organization started.
“She was an incredibly resilient and calm leader who exercised her leadership for 20 years before her vision became a reality,” Farmer said. “She is our true north. Our true north is to help people get out of the system because that is always what Ann envisioned.”
As part of the event on Thursday evening, Just Food also will announce the winner of its first leadership award, which it has named the Ann Weick Leadership Award.
• This news is just in: WOW has announced additional plans to upgrade Internet speeds in the city. As we recently reported, the cable and telephone provider in Lawrence will start offering Internet download speeds of 110 Mbps in January, which is a little more than double the speed of its fastest Internet packages.
But at the time, WOW officials said they expected to make additional announcements during the course of the next year about service upgrades. Well, this morning the company said “additional investments are now planned for 2015” to support a new tier that will allow for download speeds of 200 Mbps and upload speeds of 15 Mbps. That’s nearly another doubling of Internet download speeds, and about a tripling of upload speeds. The upload speed issue — which refers to how fast you can post files, photos and other such objects onto the internet or file-sharing services — had been a question with WOW’s previous proposal. Currently, upload speeds are limited to 5 Mbps.
The latest announcement from WOW still does not give any information on pricing plans for the programs. The announcements come right before Lawrence city commissioners are scheduled to again discuss whether to give Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband a $1 million loan guarantee and other incentives to start a pilot project in Lawrence to bring gigabit service to downtown, East Lawrence and a couple other pockets of town. Gigabit service is the same super-fast Internet service being provided by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The Wicked proposal would provide the gigabit speeds for both downloads and uploads, which Wicked officials say is particularly important for business users. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the Wicked proposal at their Tuesday evening meeting.
The only question now is whether I become the next Picasso or the next Van Gogh. (My wife says I already remind her of Van Gogh. I only hear about half of what she says.) But surely my art skills are destined to soar because Lawrence soon will have a new business that combines making art and drinking liquor.
Painted Kanvas, a new paint party studio and bar, is set to open this spring in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. But perhaps you are like me and think that when you combine paint and liquor, it usually either leads to a free mug shot courtesy of Douglas County or an awkward conversation about how a self-portrait of your derriere ended up on the living room wall.
But Painted Kanvas co-owner Chelsea Rose told me this concept is different. Area artists will lead patrons of the establishment in creating a painting over the course of about two to three hours. Patrons will be able to purchase fine Kansas wines and beers and other beverages while they create their own personal masterpiece.
"They don't have to have ever picked up a paint brush or a drawing pencil," said Rose, who co-owns the business with Dan Rose. "The artist will go stroke by stroke, and there will be plenty of time for the artist to assist people individually."
Plans call for all the artists to be local, and Rose already has begun to select some of the artwork that will be created. The business has a website where its patrons can see what painting is scheduled to be taught on any particular night.
Rose said current plans call for patrons to pay a $35 to $40 instruction fee, depending on the painting, plus whatever drinks people choose to purchase. Patrons get to keep the artwork they create.
The concept of guided art parties has begun to take off in many cities, including Kansas City and even Topeka. But Rose said Painted Kanvas — the 'K' is to emphasize the Kansas theme of the business — will be unique because it has a liquor license. Many other art party establishments don't serve liquor but instead allow you to bring your own bottle of wine, for instance.
"I went to one of the places in Kansas City, and I just thought Lawrence would eat this up," Rose said.
The business plans to be open Tuesday through Saturday for events open to the public, but Rose said she also wants to host a variety of themed events and private parties. She said she will work to attract corporate outings, and also can arrange for a kid-friendly painting for a birthday party, for example. Catering services also can be arranged, she said.
An opening date hasn't been set, but construction is underway. Rose said she hopes to have the business open sometime in March.
That's fine. That will give me time to practice — and also to scrub on this living room wall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Even when there is not painting involved, Lawrence loves a good gathering built around beer. As I reported earlier this week, tickets for the third annual Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition in downtown Lawrence went on sale Wednesday evening. Last year, tickets for the event sold out in about 45 minutes. But organizers made some changes to the event for this year, including adding a second session, which essentially doubled the number of tickets available. Event organizers recently provided me an update on ticket sales: This year they sold out in 40 minutes. (To clarify, that's how long it took to sell out online, where the majority of the tickets were available. There may be a ticket or two left at one of the several breweries in the area selling tickets. No guarantees on that, but the worst that happens is you end up at a brewery.)
There are worse problems to have than your event selling out within a matter of minutes, but expo organizer Chuck Magerl of Free State Brewery said organizers are looking for ways to make it easier to buy tickets in the future.
• UPDATE: Make what you will of this, but a WOW spokeswoman got back in touch with me this afternoon and said the paid legal notice that ran in yesterday's paper was premature on WOW's part. "WOW is negotiating retransmission renewal with KSNT's owner," spokeswoman Erica Stull told me in an e-mail. Negotiations are ongoing." So, it sounds like an issue to keep an eye on, but not one that has been settled.
It looks like Lawrence residents soon will have one less opportunity to keep up on our friends in Topeka. A small notice appeared in the classified section of the Journal-World yesterday announcing that in March WOW will stop carrying the Topeka NBC affiliate KSNT on the cable system. (To be clear, the notice doesn't say who is announcing this — WOW, KSNT or some other party — but I'm reaching out to the officials at WOW.) KSNT is channel 8 and channel 208 on the cable dial. That will leave Kansas City's KSHB — channel 14 and 214 on the cable dial — as the only NBC affiliate on WOW's system. It also means that of the three big network affiliates in Topeka, only the CBS affiliate of WIBW remains on the Lawrence cable system.(Topeka's PBS station is also on the system.) I haven't yet received word from WOW on the reasons behind the pending change, but nationally cable operators and local television stations have sparred frequently over the fees cable operators pay the stations for the right to carry the stations on their systems. According to the notice, March 4 is set to be the last day for KSNT on the WOW system. It is worth noting, though, that it has been announced before that KSNT was going to be dropped from the system, and then negotiations led to it staying on the system. So, we'll see what happens. I'll let you know when I hear more.
More LJWorld City Coverage
The changes keep on coming in the Lawrence Internet market.
The largest Internet service provider in Lawrence has just announced that it is removing all of its usage caps from its Internet service packages, as the company changes its name from Knology to WOW! That means customers no longer will be charged for going over their usage limits, according to a press release by the company.
Englewood, Colo.-based WOW purchased Knology back in July, but it had not converted Knology over to the WOW brand until today. Signs for the company around town are being changed today, according to WOW.
But the changes related to Internet usage caps are likely to garner more attention from hard-core Internet users. The caps had generated concern among many users because customers’ standard monthly rates could rise depending on how much Internet usage they had in a particular month.
The change in the cap policy comes at a time when both private and public officials have been talking about shaking up the city’s Internet service provider market.
A city-hired consultant recently completed a report that found that current broadband offerings in Lawrence generally are “costlier, slower and more limited than in other comparable communities.” City officials had the report commissioned because they have been interested in possibly allowing private companies to have access to a growing ring of fiber optic cable owned by the city.
On the private front, Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband — formerly known as Lawrence Freenet — has made a proposal to the city to further tap into that ring of fiber. (Ring of Fiber: Johnny Cash used to sing that song in his old age.)
At their meeting tonight, city commissioners will receive a request from Wicked for low-cost fiber leases with the city, and a one-time $500,000 grant to help the company build new broadband infrastructure in the city. The request is part of a pilot project Wicked is launching to bring to one Lawrence neighborhood the same type of superfast Internet service that Google Fiber is bringing to Kansas City. If successful, Wicked Broadband wants to extend the high-speed broadband project to all of the city.
So, we’ll see what cards the folks at WOW start playing in what appears to be an increasingly competitive game in Lawrence. Consumers, I suspect, will be keeping an eye on whether the competition starts having an impact on rates.