In the News

The Hutchinson News

Mark Clarkin

An updated and finished detailed broadband access availability map of Kansas will be “rolled out” Tuesday in Dodge City, in conjunction with a telephone service association conference.

The end of July was the deadline for Connected Nation’s mapping project, carried out in partnership with the governor’s office and the Kansas Department of Commerce, said Connected Nation’s vice president of government affairs, Brent Legg.

“What it’s going to show is service availability at the street level, essentially, for broadband all across the state,” Legg said.

“Seventy broadband service providers participated in the map, and then we had another 10 who elected not to participate, unfortunately, but we were able to use the data they filed with the FCC to supplement the more granular date here,” Legg added.

The Statewide Broadband Expansion Planning Task Force will use that map to complete its report that is to be given to the Kansas Legislature in January 2020.

State Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, is co-chairman of the task force, and he and Legg were among participants Friday of a forum devoted to the need to deliver access to high-speed connectivity to all areas. The Regional Economic Area Partnership sponsored the event at Botanica in Wichita.

Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers, who has been traveling the state extensively, particularly in rural areas, said housing, health care and broadband access “come up in almost every conversation, and not necessarily in that order.”

The absence of high-speed connectivity only gives youths one more reason to leave rural areas, he said.

Broadband access is a critical link for telemedicine, Rogers noted, saying there are about 200 oncologists in Kansas but only one lives in rural Kansas. Schools, farmers and businesses also need broadband access, Rogers and other speakers said.

“It’s a difference maker in our rural communities,” Rogers said.

Seiwert said one question is how to pay for it. He said if taxes are raised so high to cover costs, people couldn’t afford to move there.

Mike Zamrzla, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, and Stanley Adams, the Kansas Department of Commerce’s director of broadband initiatives, spoke of funding available through the federal farm bill and the Federal Communications Commission.

The application process for federal grants is cumbersome, some participants observed.

It needs to be simplified, urged Jade Piros de Carvalho, marketing, and sales manager with IdeaTek Telcom, of Buhler, and Jill Kuehny, chief executive officer with KanOkla, of Caldwell.

Piros de Carvalho stressed the importance of “more flexible access to the right-of-way,” and she commended Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Julie Lorenz for her response to right-of-way concerns for companies burying fiber-optic lines.

The digital divide between urban and rural areas “is widening right now,” Legg said. It is becoming “so robust” in urban areas, he said, there will be experiences online that one can get in a city but won’t be available online in rural areas.

The broadband expansion task force should “think into the future and not just what is going to serve people today,” Piros de Carvalho said.

“Kansas needs to stop trying to keep up with the industry minimum. I mean, we’re better than that,” Piros de Carvalho said, noting that bandwidth needs are growing rapidly.

Communities that have brought stakeholders together in an organized effort to bring better service to their area are able to “move the needle,” Legg said.

View the full story here.