Monthly Archives: February 2007

Bridging the Digital Divide for Rural Kansas
One of the more frustrating things I have witnessed as a Kansas legislator is seeing our state continually hand out tax breaks and other financial incentives to Kansas utilities under the guise of “infrastructure investment” and still having constituents not enjoy the fruits of that so-called investment.  One particular irritant is high speed Internet access.  I have received numerous complaints about local phone companies not providing rural customers with DSL Internet access because they live outside of the DSL “loop”.  I have contacted representatives of these companies to discuss the issue, and in every instance they state that 1) it is currently not feasible for them to extend their DSL network to their rural customers, and 2) they have no future plans to do so.
An October 2005 Pew Internet and American Life Project study finds that different access speeds are creating a new divide among Internet users.  High speed access users are “pulling away from dial-up users in many aspects of online life”, with connection speed usurping experience as being the most significant predictor of online behavior.  With high speed Internet access, Kansans can find jobs and Kansas businesses can develop markets for their products and services.  While recent broadband adoption rates have been particularly impressive, broadband penetration rate discrepancies still exist between rural versus suburban and urban population areas.  Without these connections, many rural Kansans will remain victims of the digital divide, ensnared in economic and educational disadvantages.
While I appreciate and wholeheartedly support the need for business decisions to be driven by the bottom line, I also believe it is appropriate for government to create incentives for private firms to step in and help fill the gaps created by the marketplace.  In this particular situation, wireless networks are a good choice as an enabling technology for expanding high speed Internet access to rural Kansas communities due to its significant cost advantages and minimal deployment time.  I have therefore introduced House Bill 2448, the Kansas Wireless High Speed Internet Service Grant Program, for encouraging Kansas corporations to provide wireless high speed internet access to those geographical areas in Kansas not having access to DSL or cable modem access services.
The bill would authorize the Kansas Corporation Commission to administer the program.  Specifically, the commission would receive and evaluate business plans and make awards to private entities proposing the development of wireless access service for areas where there is no current residential access to direct subscriber line service.  The proposed service would have to provide certifiable downstream transmission rates of at least one megabit per second and upstream transmission rates of at least 384 kilobytes per second.  Applicants would also have to show the ability to provide the service at a price competitive with the price of the nearest direct subscriber line service.  No grant could exceed $50,000, and the grant could only be used towards the acquisition of equipment and software required to furnish the service to customers.  The legislation would also require the KCC to prepare and submit to the governor and the legislature an annual report documenting how the state has met wireless infrastructure development goals and objectives for the previous year.  The legislation, unless renewed by the Kansas Legislature, would sunset in 5 years.
High speed Internet access usage continues to grow across Kansas, and that usage is quickly setting the standard for defining ways in which the Internet both can and both must be utilized, particularly in terms of economics, education and health care.  The downside to this is that high speed Internet access is also simultaneously establishing itself as a hurdle to which Kansas citizens must cross in order to compete in the global digital economy.  It is imperative that all Kansans be able to reap the rewards of this exciting technology if we are truly committed to fostering economic development.  HB 2448 is a prudent and economical approach to providing high speed Internet access for rural Kansans.
* * *
Thank you for letting me serve as your State Representative. I always appreciate knowing where you stand on the issues our state is currently facing. I can be reached at (785) 296-7668 (daytime) or (785) 865-2786 (evenings).  My e-mail address is holland@house.state.ks.us. Also, if you would like to be added to my e-mail newsletter mailing list, please send me your e-mail address.
Want to Stop Illegal Immigration? Get Tough with Employers!
From erecting security border fencing and walls to increasing the number of temporary worker permits, a variety of solutions addressing illegal immigration were offered up to voters during this past fall’s mid-term elections.  In addressing this highly contentious and critical issue, it is imperative that we as American citizens dialogue and develop consensus on the underlying causes of illegal immigration so that our elected officials can be held accountable in honestly and effectively addressing this issue.
Simply put, illegal immigrants are coming to the U.S. for jobs.  In an AP article published last March, there are now as many as 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. workforce.  That means one out of every twenty workers in America is an illegal immigrant.  And this phenomenon comes with a hefty price tag.  A study published by George Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at Harvard University, concluded that by increasing the supply of labor between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of U.S.-born men by an estimated $1,700 or roughly 4 percent.  He also found that among U.S.-born men without a high school diploma (approximately the poorest tenth of the U.S. workforce), the estimated impact was even larger, reducing their wages by 7.4 percent.
So what to do?  The only way we will ever reduce this tremendous influx of illegal labor is by having the U.S. government aggressively identify and sanction those employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.  But given the federal government’s inaction on the issue, states across the country are stepping up on their own.  I have co-sponsored legislation this year (HB 2163) that would significantly increase the penalties against employers that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.  The bill would also prohibit those firms that have been sanctioned for such an offense from participating in any state public works project for a period of five years.  The premise of the bill is based on the idea of hitting violating companies where it financially hurts.
The Kansas Legislature has a rather dubious record on this issue.  Despite a number of bills introduced since the 2003 session, the legislature has failed to toughen existing penalties that are widely perceived as being weak and ineffective.  The legislature did, however, make some progress last year by passing legislation I sponsored that assists the Kansas Department of Revenue in identifying those companies that purposefully misclassify workers as independent contractors instead of W-2 employees (a prevalent business practice for those firms employing illegal immigrants).  Given the building crescendo of concerns regarding this issue, I do expect to see stiffer sanctions become law within the next two years.
There are those who would try to use illegal immigration as a means for simply fanning American fears and prejudices against immigrants.  If we want to get serious about stopping illegal immigration, however, we must instead focus our attention on fellow U.S. citizens who intentionally hire illegal immigrants.  There can simply be no toleration for deliberate business practices that slowly but surely undermine the economic aspirations and potential of America’s working men and women.
* * *
Thank you for letting me serve as your State Representative. I always appreciate knowing where you stand on the issues our state is currently facing. I can be reached at (785) 296-7668 (daytime) or (785) 865-2786 (evenings).  My e-mail address is holland@house.state.ks.us. Also, if you would like to be added to my e-mail newsletter mailing list, please send me your e-mail address.

Paid for by Tom Holland for Kansas Senate
Kris Marsh, Treasurer