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Friday
October 30th, 2020

broadband graphicCourtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The need for expansion of broadband services throughout Kansas has been talked about for a long time. 

To help with that, and given the increase in Internet access due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Laura Kelly signed Executive Order #20-67 Oct. 8 to establish the Office of Broadband Development and announced the distribution of nearly $50 million in Connectivity Emergency Response Grant funds to underserved communities across Kansas, according to a release from the State of Kansas.

“Broadband access has been an overlooked problem in Kansas and across the country for years, particularly in our rural and vulnerable communities,” Governor Kelly noted in that release. “This announcement marks a significant step forward in my administration’s commitment to achieving the universal broadband coverage that will make our state’s communities competitive economically, healthier, and improve educational access.”

“With an enhanced focus from the Office of Broadband Development, we will greatly improve critical access to business, education, and healthcare connectivity needed statewide,” Commerce Secretary David Toland added in that release. “Broadband truly is a critical building block to a brighter future. With today’s announcement from Governor Kelly, the moment has come to further power the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that are hallmarks of our great state.”

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Stanley Adams, director of the Office of Broadband Development, said the conversation for this expansion has been going on for a long time. 

“We'd started talking about that very shortly after all the CARES Act funding had been announced. The main thing was we had to determine if the type of work we were planning to do could be done within the time frame that was part of the CARES Act requirements because the deadline is Dec. 30, so that was the first question we had to deal with since broadband projects can take a lot of time,” Adams said. “We did the outreach to the broadband companies and engineering firms and got their estimates and asked if this was something that could feasibly be done. We did that outreach and the response back was actually really positive and there was the assurance those projects could be done on a quicker deadline albeit with some challenges depending on the type of work that would be required, and then they gave their estimates for construction and timelines and things like that. We're wanting to expand in residential areas and also business areas, which is really important right now since a lot of things are being done online and people are wanting to stay home to avoid getting sick because of the pandemic. And it's great we're doing this because we want to use this funding to actually help people and businesses that need it right now.”

Adams added there were several factors that went into the conversation. 

“On one hand, there are so many areas throughout the state, especially more rural areas, that don't have a reliable and stable Internet provider, which is something sorely needed everywhere given how many things are moving online and given how much time people spend online, so broadband expansion has been a priority that's needed to be taken care of for a long time,” Adams said. “Unfortunately though, projects like that take a lot of time and work and money, and because of that, it has to be put on the back burner because the funding and other resources simply aren't there to get it done. This pandemic, in a weird way, has helped bring that to the forefront and people have realized how reliable Internet access is needed, particularly with schools and other businesses.”

Adams said there are several benefits that will be seen from the expansion. 

“I'm really excited about this because there are a lot of good things that will come out of this. This will be expanded to residential areas and some businesses, and it will allow them to have Internet connectivity they didn't have before,” Adams said. “The key thing to this is it will all actually be done relatively quickly due to that deadline in December. The access itself is the biggest positive about this and the fact that a lot of people will have Internet access, which is so important right now because of the pandemic and with so many things moving online now so people don't actually have to leave their homes. I'm excited because this is something that's been needed for a long time, so it's great to see some action being taken on this and it will reach a lot of people. The equipment for and from the providers will also be upgraded, which is great and means it will last a long time, which is a cost savings to everyone involved, and the providers themselves are excited about this because they'll be able to provide better service. I'm not a construction expert, so I can't really speak to those details, but in general terms, the service providers will be given funding to help expand their reach in the communities they serve and make sure more people have reliable Internet service, and to do that, they need special equipment and materials and things like that. There will be different levels of construction and installation that will need to be done to make this expansion project possible, but the overall goal is to help the providers expand their coverage areas and improve their service in the communities they're set up in.”

Adams added he is excited to see the work get done. 

“I'm excited we're making a real difference in so many people's lives and getting them connected. This is something that's been needed for a long time, and I'm glad we're actually taking some action with this,” Adams said. “The governor has made it very clear how important this project is and I think it will end up helping a lot of people. It's unfortunate there had to be a pandemic for this work to get started, but I'm excited to finally get this going and make a difference for a lot of people in this critical time. Quite a bit of work has actually gotten started with a lot of providers and the main thing we had to wait for was the official go-ahead with the funding. The good news is a lot of the awardees have been able to get things ready to go and they're committed to making this all work, which I commend them for. So far, everything's working out according to plan, and I'm glad so many pieces of this were able to come together in a rather short timespan. We're grateful to work with such a great group of people on this. I'm optimistic this is just the beginning of projects like this. Kansas isn't the only one who's needed broadband expansion, and due to what's going on, I'm cautiously optimistic there will be more federal funding available in the near future for other places to take advantage of so they can do their own broadband expansion projects, which will only be a benefit to those areas. I truly see more projects like this being undertaken, and I actually hope they do get undertaken because Internet access has never been more important than right now.”

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