TOPEKA—The Information Network of Kansas (“INK”) Board of Directors has approved a $300,000 grant request by Governor Jeff Colyer, M.D. to complete a Statewide Broadband Mapping project.
The project, which will be undertaken by non-profit Connected Nation in partnership with the Governor’s Office, will prepare a statewide broadband map of wireline and wireless coverage. This map will provide the Statewide Broadband Expansion Planning Task Force, created when Governor Colyer signed Sen. Sub. for House Bill No. 2701 into law, with a snapshot of broadband coverage in the state. The map will assist the Task Force in its efforts to identify and close broadband coverage gaps in Kansas.
“Access to quality broadband services is vital for Kansas communities to compete for jobs and people, and we can’t improve what we don’t measure,” said Governor Colyer. “Producing this statewide broadband map positions our state for long-term growth in the rapidly expanding digital economy and helps us ensure that all Kansans are benefitting from these new opportunities.”
Connected Nation will produce a granular statewide broadband availability map through a data collection process in collaboration with the state’s broadband service providers, for use by the general public and the Task Force. Connected Nation will also collect public feedback on the initial draft of the map and will deploy engineers into the field to validate service availability (or the lack thereof) based on the feedback received in order to improve the map over time.
“Just as roads, bridges, water systems, and the electrical grid serve as critical infrastructure today, so, too, is fast and reliable broadband access,” said Brent Legg, Vice President of Government Affairs at Connected Nation. “Unfortunately, information collected on broadband at the federal level isn’t accurate or granular enough to effectively guide policymaking and get broadband to the areas that need it. Governor Colyer recognized this need, and thanks to INK’s grant, we will now have the resources to identify and map the areas that still lack service across Kansas.”
In addition to tackling a number of broadband-related issues, the Task Force will evaluate and provide input to the mapping process based on preliminary feedback and results of Connected Nation’s work later this year.
“As Co-Chairs of the Statewide Broadband Expansion Planning Task Force, we strongly commend Governor Colyer for his initiative with this grant application and are excited to hear about the funding of the vital statewide broadband mapping project. This map will assist the Task Force as we work to expand broadband infrastructure and increase statewide access to broadband services for our fellow Kansans,” stated Senator Rob Olson and Representative Joe Seiwert, who also both chair their respective legislative chamber’s telecommunications issue committees.
Governor Colyer selected Rich Felts, President of Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB), as his at-large appointment to the Task Force. KFB was recently granted a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to challenge its Mobility Fund Phase II (MFII) eligibility map, which will determine where $4.53 billion in subsidies for LTE broadband service buildout will be directed across the country over the next 10 years. KFB is working with their members and Kansans from all over the state to conduct speed tests to show the need to increase the number of eligible areas in Kansas (see www.kfb.org/ConnectingKansas).
“Kansans in every county of the state know where the shortcomings on broadband connectivity reside,” KFB President Rich Felts said. “Having an up-to-date map that accurately reflects areas that lack connectivity in both wired and wireless broadband will allow for future broadband development to improve public safety, and enhance agricultural technology, education, telemedicine and economic vitality.”
In June, the Governor’s Office received another grant from the INK Board in the amount of $225,000 to conduct professional mobile service drive testing and file its own challenge to expand eligible areas under the FCC’s MFII program. Alongside KFB, the Governor’s Office will dispute areas that are currently considered ineligible for MFII buildout support. If the challenge is successful, it could potentially unlock millions of dollars in MFII support for LTE service buildout in rural Kansas. The Governor’s Office will be working with Connected Nation to administer the drive-testing process in targeted areas believed to have limited or no cellular service today.
Also in June, Governor Colyer appointed Stanley Adams as Director of Broadband Initiatives at the Kansas Department of Commerce to work on continuing to identify broadband needs and solutions across Kansas—focusing heavily on broadband access issues facing many rural areas across the state.
“It’s critical that we have good data to understand where gaps in broadband coverage exist, with a level of detail sufficient to develop effective strategies that will result in all Kansans having access to the high quality broadband services needed to grow our economy and enhance our competitiveness” stated Mr. Adams.
The first draft of the statewide broadband availability map will be ready by December 31. Challenges to the FCC’s MFII eligibility map are currently due on August 27, although FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has signaled that the agency may extend the deadline to November 27.