U.S. Treasury Helps Accelerate Broadband Deployment in Kansas
Thursday, July 14, 2022
U.S. Treasury Helps Accelerate Broadband Deployment in Kansas
People living in rural Kansas have been concerned about their lack of access to reliable broadband for over 20 years. As part of a second wave of Capital Projects Fund awards, Kansas will receive $83.5 million from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to increase access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.
The Digital Divide in Kansas
According to BroadbandNow, 15 percent of households in Kansas have no access to the internet. Kansas ranks 35th among states in internet coverage, speed and availability. Just over 91% of Jayhawkers have access to broadband with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Forty-three percent of the population has access to a fiber-based broadband network. Kansas ranks 39th in the U.S. as just over 87% of households have access to 100 Mbps broadband. Less than 29% of people living in Kansas have access to broadband that is priced at $60/month or less.
In March 2022, the University of Kansas released two studies finding that 95 Kansas ZIP codes — representing nearly 90,000 people — don’t have internet speeds that meet the federal definition of broadband. And over 1 million Kansans live in a ZIP code where recorded average download speeds are below 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.
University of Kansas Professor Donna Ginther, the principal investigator for the research, said the reason is obvious: The economics of connecting such remote areas just don’t work out on paper. “It’s really expensive to provide high-speed internet to a few people,” Ginther said. “That’s why you don't have that infrastructure out there.”
When it comes to connecting the last 10 percent of Kansans in the most remote areas—where a single home or farm might be several miles from any other connection point—broadband installation costs are just astronomical, says Ideatek co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer Daniel Friesen.
“If we as a state, or we as Americans, want to ensure that every person in Kansas or America has broadband service, there’s just simply no way to do it without some level of subsidy,” Friesen said. “Without it, there’s definitely a number of communities that would still likely be in the dark ages from a broadband perspective.”
Broadband Programs in Kansas
Governor Laura Kelly (D-KS) has led the first administration to make significant investments in broadband infrastructure deployment. Since the summer of 2020, Governor Kelly’s efforts have spurred more than $85 million of total investment in broadband infrastructure in Kansas to address pandemic health, education, and business challenges and spur community and economic development.
In May 2020, Governor Kelly created the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Executive Committee to lead the state’s economic recovery and oversee the distribution of CARES Act funding (and, later, American Rescue Plan Act funding as well). SPARK is aided by advisory panels focused on four main topics: Health and Education, Economic Revitalization, Connectivity, and Efficiency and Modernization.
Expanding broadband infrastructure and supporting internet access was critical to meeting the state's COVID-19 needs related to telehealth services, remote learning, and remote work. In 2020, SPARK allocated $60 million in coronavirus relief funding to the Kansas Office of Broadband Development to increase connectivity in the state.
The Kansas Office of Broadband Development, in turn, launched two pandemic response programs: they created the Connectivity Emergency Response Grant program and the Broadband Partnership Adoption Grant program to drive immediate access and long-term impact. The Connectivity Emergency Response Grant generated more than $65 million in total investment through 66 broadband infrastructure projects completed across the state. Impacting rural communities in 74 of Kansas’ 105 counties, the program improved the availability of broadband access for more than 51,000 households, businesses, and municipalities.
The initial year of the Broadband Acceleration Grant Program saw an investment of an additional $10 million in state broadband grants and matching funds. The program is poised to target areas that are unlikely to receive broadband service without state or federal funding support through the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program (IKE). Competitive grant awards of up to $1 million dollars—with a required 50% match— will be invested in the construction of high-quality, reliable broadband infrastructure throughout Kansas with priority given to applications that address:
- Unserved areas,
- Economically distressed communities, and
- Areas of compelling need.
The program encourages partnership projects that accelerate broadband infrastructure through collective investments such as:
- Projects proposed in Kansas Department of Transportation construction corridors or ‘dig once’ efforts;
- Municipal, county or regional projects that are part of a community’s strategic broadband plan; and
- Scalable, robust co-investment projects.
Prior to this week's announcement, the Broadband Acceleration Grant Program was in the second of ten funding years with a plan to invest $5 million in grant awards for years one through three, and $10 million in funding awards for years four through ten. In the first round of Broadband Acceleration Grant Program awards, grants went to smaller, locally based broadband providers like Nex-Tech, SC Telcom, EpicTouch Communications, WTC Communications, Moundridge Communications Network, and KwiKom Communications.
On July 14, Treasury approved Kansas’ plan for $83.5 million (representing 58% of the state's available Capital Projects Fund funding). With these funds, Kansas estimates it will connect 21,300 homes and businesses by building high-speed internet service in areas where there is a demonstrated need. The broadband networks deployed with this funding will be designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. Each of the broadband providers funded by the Kansas Office of Broadband Development’s use of the Capital Projects Fund will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program—a $30 per month subsidy for low-income families.
The Capital Projects Fund support will accelerate broadband deployment in Kansas, but the state estimates that this investment will only help connect 8 percent of the locations in the state still lacking broadband service. Kansas still has a long way to go to achieve universal broadband.
Although federal and state broadband funding programs make construction possible, a new map from Headwaters Economics that measures “rural capacity” — an area’s ability to handle everything it takes to apply for and implement state or federal money — shows that several western Kansas counties, including Morton, Gove, and Cheyenne, rank among the most limited in the nation. Headwaters’ research concluded that Kansas ranks as the seventh-worst state in the country for this measure of rural capacity.
And broadband access isn’t the only issue keeping rural Americans offline — there’s also affordability. Rural customers within reach of broadband pay an average of 37% more than urban customers.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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