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.
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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