TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly elevated the administration’s commitment to improving access to quality internet service in Kansas by establishing Thursday an office of broadband development in the state Department of Commerce.
“Achieving universal broadband coverage will make communities more competitive economically, make them healthier and improve educational access,” Kelly said. “If we are serious about competing in today’s global economy and recruiting the best talent to come to our state and keeping our children where they grew up, then we must do everything in our power to end the digital divide.”
The Democratic governor appointed Stanley Adams as director of broadband initiatives at the Department of Commerce. She said he would take a “clear-eyed, data-driven and nonpartisan” approach to guiding the agency’s work on high-speed internet services.
Adams said broadband was one of the state’s greatest economic development tools and pledged to help deliver technical assistance and expertise to get people online.
Kelly also outlined 68 broadband projects financed with $49.2 million in federal pandemic funding designed to help the state deal with fallout from a crisis that exposed technology gaps related to education, health and business. The governor and legislators previously agreed to earmark at least $50 million in CARES Act funding for broadband expansion.
The project list includes $2.8 million for Wyandotte County to link broadband infrastructure in Bonner Springs, Edwardsville and Kansas City, Kansas, and $1.8 million to upgrade connections in Finney County for emergency management agencies. In Jefferson County, $600,000 was set aside to improve voice and digital communications for first responders in 10 cities.
In south central Kansas, Cox Communications will use $1.3 million to connect new or unserved homes in Derby and Kechi as well as other Kansas communities. A total of $179,000 will be dedicated to providing direct fiber to three clinics in support of telemedicine services in Wellsville. In Hodgeman County, $386,000 was made available to Blackdragon Networks to install high-speed wireless internet for farms, students and businesses around Jetmore and Hanston.
“It’s nearly impossible to both recruit new businesses and in many cases keep existing businesses in areas that do not have stable high-speed internet,” Kelly said. “Students without broadband are at a disadvantage with their peers who have a reliable connection at home and can complete school online.”
She said full application of the promise of telemedicine would be impossible without a network of internet connections.
Kelly issued an executive order directing the broadband office at the Department of Commerce to develop strategies for construction of broadband infrastructure with the goal of delivering “universal broadband access for Kansas homes and businesses.”
The office’s objective will be to advocate for policies that make quality service “more accessible, affordable and reliable in underserved and vulnerable communities,” the governor said.
Kelly directed all agencies of the executive branch to support the commerce department’s work to promote public and private sector cooperation on broadband expansion and digital equity.
In the past, she said, politicians asserted that expanding broadband access was a top priority of state government.
“Resistance to a coordinated statewide strategy or to commit the necessary funding has failed to bring high-speed internet to the communities that needed it the most,” the governor said. “As we see now, failure to invest put our rural and vulnerable communities at a stark disadvantage when the pandemic arrived.”