Grant will extend broadband internet to remote areas

LaHarpe Telephone's New Wave Broadband is wrapping up construction on towers that will extend wireless internet to remote locations in Allen County, thanks to a state grant.

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December 28, 2020 - 8:59 AM

Brian Blauvelt of Blauvelt Towers works on a tower segment northwest of Iola. The Linn, Mo.-based company erected a pair of telecommunications towers in rural parts of Allen County this month as part of a project to provide broadband access to remote portions of the county. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

LAHARPE — Armed with a state grant made available because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, LaHarpe Telephone’s New Wave Broadband is extending its broadband internet access to remote areas of Allen County.

Construction wrapped up last week on the second of a pair of 190-foot towers, this one in the Geneva Township in the northwesternmost regions of the county. The first was finished earlier this month just east of Mildred.

“There are a lot of areas out there that don’t have decent internet,” noted Harry Lee Jr., owner of LaHarpe Telephone and New Wave. 

That’s because of their remote location from faraway transmitters, and just enough topographic obstructions, such as hills and trees. 

Invariably, those residents depend upon satellite-based internet services, which can often be problematic, he continued. “They’ll have latency problems or data caps,” Lee said.

As a result, “It’s really difficult for kids doing online schooling, parents trying to work remotely, or people doing telemedicine.”

And if 2020 has proven anything, it’s that the demand for broadband access is greater than ever.

Crews erect a tower near the intersection of 1000 Street and Texas Road in Geneva Township in northwest Allen County.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

With that in mind, the Kansas Department of Commerce announced earlier this year the Connectivity Emergency Response Grant, which funds 75% of projects geared to improve connectivity to unserved and underserved areas of Kansas “to address the needs of telework, telehealth, distance learning and other remote business services.”

New Wave was aided by letters of support from several residents in both areas, two of whom, Virginia Latta and Paul Knight, agreed to allow construction of the towers on their respective properties.

“There are limitations, as with everything,” Lee noted.

Wireless internet, after all has slightly less capacity than fiber-optic cable, but the grant mandates “carrier grade” equipment be used, “which is highly reliable and allows you to give good, robust packages in terms of internet speeds,” Lee said.

Kirby Blauvelt of Blauvelt Towers winds a pool of rope used to erect a tower in the northwest part of Allen County.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

“This is the wireless product in the most cost-effective way to serve a huge area,” he said. “ Probably, the reason it hadn’t happened previously was the economics. Because of the grant, economics made more sense.”

As per terms of the grant agreement, the towers are scheduled to be online by the end of the month.

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