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October 27th, 2021

ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The need for Internet access has become more and more important during the past several months, and the state of Kansas is continuing to work on broadband access. 

“The start of a new school year is an expensive time for families. If you are struggling to pay for phone and internet service while navigating back to school costs, help is available,” a release from the State of Kansas noted. “The Kansas Corporation Commission encourages Kansans in need of assistance to apply for Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). Both programs help low-income families and individuals stay connected so they can access healthcare, attend classes, find jobs, and call for help in an emergency. Anyone who qualifies for Lifeline also qualifies for Emergency Broadband. Lifeline provides federal and state discounts up to $17.02 per month on phone service (wireless or residential) and broadband. The $3.2 billion federal Emergency Broadband Benefit, launched last May in response to the pandemic, provides a $50 per month broadband discount. Participants also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. Both programs offer additional discounts for subscribers living on tribal lands.”

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To be eligible for Lifeline, your household income must be at or below 135 percent of the poverty level or you receive one or more of the following benefits:

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

• Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

• Federal Public Housing Assistance (FHPA)

• Veterans Pension & Survivors Pension Benefit

• Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance

• Tribally Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

• Head Start Tribal Programs (only those meeting its income qualifying standard)

•  The Food Distribution Program on Tribal Lands.

To qualify for EBB, your household must meet one of the following requirements:

• Meet the criteria for the Lifeline program

• Receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year.

• Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.

• Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020.

• Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

Kansans can apply for both programs directly through one of many participating providers in the state. More information is also available on the Kansas Corporation Commission Web site.

This comes with other projects the state has completed concerning broadband access, including in October 2020 when Gov. 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 the October 2020 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.”

December 2020 also saw IdeaTek announce its program to help with Internet access. 

“Our program is offering free high-speed Internet service to qualifying residents in both existing and new service areas, and that includes the cost of all the hardware,” IdeaTek Director of Community Relations Jade Piros de Carvalho noted in a December 2020 L&T story. “It's offered from the time we install (which must happen before the end of the year) through 2022, so the service through all of 2021 will be free. If anyone is interested in continuing the service after that free period, it's only $20 per month, which is a very good deal since the particular service we're offering is the best in class available in the area. For most of our areas, that's going to be 1 GB fiber speed, which is 1,000 mbps, so it's not a situation where we're offering our lowest class service, this is the best class service we offer. This is all part of an effort to provide broadband service we're needing to see, especially now when so much is being done online. It goes back to our mission statement, which is serving the underserved, so we really focus our efforts on areas of the state that lack Internet connection, we go to more rural areas that aren't able to connect in meaningful ways Internet-wise. The inability to access Internet is not just an infrastructure problem, we also think about how to help people who might be in an area with Internet connection but unable to afford the monthly bill. When we heard about this grant through the Kansas Department of Commerce, we decided to apply for it and try to match our private funding to help in our area. So it all goes with our mission to bring Internet service to underserved areas and families.”

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