For pure, fast, ultra-cheap home broadband, few places will be able to compete with North Kansas City.
The municipal-owned fiber-optic network weaving through the city has been leased to a private company — on the condition that residents get free ultra-fast Internet service.
Some residents will have to pay one-time installation fees — from $50 to $300, depending on the speeds they want — for otherwise free service for at least 10 years.
Existing customers will see their monthly bills, commonly $25 to $35, disappear and their speeds quicken 100-fold.
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At the top end, homes will get connections up to 1 gigabit per second — matching the fastest home Internet in the country.
By comparison, Google Fiber sells those same speeds in the Kansas City market for $70 a month. It offers its own “free” Internet service for seven years with a $300 installation fee, but only at poky download speeds of 5 megabits per second and uploads of 1 megabit per second.
For North Kansas City, a deal reached this month limits the amount of money it has been paying to subsidize residential service. In its last budget, the city spent about $200,000 to cover the costs of operating liNKCity, the city-owned Internet service.
Under its recently approved agreement with server farm company DataShack, that expense will be limited to $150,000 a year for the next decade.
“It should be good for everybody,” said Mellissa Hopkins, the marketing and sales director for liNKCity.
DataShack thinks it can turn liNKCity around — and turn a profit on the operation it will now run for the city. If liNKCity becomes profitable, the proceeds will be split between DataShack and the city.
The network was built in 2005 with casino proceeds, running high-capacity fiber-optic lines by every address in the city.
“As much as anything, it was meant as an economic development tool,” said Michael Smith, the North Kansas City assistant city administrator.
But it’s been a drain on city finances, so the city sought bids from private firms willing to operate the network and take responsibility for its bottom line.
Four-year-old DataShack, which operates thousands of remote computer servers in North Kansas City mostly for overseas clients, thinks it can bring new efficiencies to the network.
Brooks Brown, a managing member of DataShack LLC, said the firm hopes to make the business side of the operation profitable, which will help subsidize the service to residential customers.
“The business customers are the much bigger part of the operation,” he said.
Today, liNKCity has about 460 business customers in North Kansas City who pay anywhere from $80 to $500 a month for high-speed connections. DataShack plans to keep business rates the same while cranking up speeds.
About 440 residential customers currently buy hookups from liNKCity. Brown said he expects the free service to make that number double or triple.
Existing customers will see their free service, and faster speeds, kick in Jan. 1. Some of those customers, Hopkins said, may have to pay installation fees for the fastest services if their homes don’t already have the proper equipment.
New residential customers will begin signing up for the service in November, with installations coming early next year.