Kansas to map broadband coverage gaps with aim of expanding access in rural areas

By John Milburn, AP
Monday, December 7, 2009

Kansas to use stimulus funds to boost broadband

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas will use a new federal grant to identify gaps in access to broadband services and build the infrastructure for economic recovery, the lieutenant governor said Monday.

The state recently was awarded $2 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a portion of the $7.2 billion earmarked in the program for broadband infrastructure nationwide.

Lt. Gov. Troy Findley said the broadband mapping would be a first step toward extending Internet access to all parts of Kansas, helping business find ways to expand their markets and increase the ability for residents to access education, health care and other government services online. Findley framed the grant as an economic development tool to position Kansas for growth in the coming years.

“We believe we are going to come out of the recession and come out of it strong,” Findley said.

Information gleaned from the mapping, expected to be available in 2010, will be used to encourage local service providers to develop broadband access in areas where there are gaps. Along with the grant, the state’s Information Network of Kansas is contributing $185,000 and the Kansas Farm Bureau is adding another $15,000.

Kansas is one of 21 states to receive federal grants for broadband mapping since October. Additional federal grants to service providers will be used to expand the broadband network, officials said.

Findley said broadband access will help businesses in rural areas to link with suppliers and will give entrepreneurs an avenue to get their products developed and in front of customers. Other residents could study for degrees online or find out about government services.

“Residents can go from being a day’s drive away to a click away,” he said.

Connect Nation, a nonprofit organization that helped Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to expand their broadband access, has been contracted to assist in the mapping and to help develop a public-private partnership to build network access, said Brian Mefford, the group’s CEO.

He said the group may also be able to help get low-cost computers to residents in rural areas.

Mefford said between 85 percent and 90 percent of Kansans are covered by broadband access, but that it is likely that only half of them actually uses the technology. He said many don’t see the need for having a computer to assist with their lives, business or education.

“The point is to put the technology in people’s hands so they use it,” Mefford said.

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