Most of us have experienced the frustration of internet buffering while streaming our favorite Netflix shows. For years, policymakers have tried to fill in the gap for people who don’t have access to broadband by telling them this level of service would be enough. Those who chose to live rural were told that they simply needed to live without certain amenities, like fast internet service, that their urban counterparts enjoyed.
The pandemic changed all that and taught everyone what rural Kansans have long known. Broadband is no longer a luxury, but an essential part of everyday life.
Kansas currently ranks 28th in the county for broadband connectivity, a marked improvement from four years ago when it ranked 40th. The Kansas Legislature signaled its willingness to address broadband disparities in 2018 with the establishment of a state broadband expansion planning task force. Last year’s IKE transportation plan included $85 million in funding for broadband infrastructure construction grants. Then, with the availability of federal CARES Act funding in response to the pandemic, Gov. Laura Kelly made the bold move to invest $60 million toward broadband grants for both infrastructure and low income subsidies. Kansas Department of Commerce hustled to administer the funding in an effort that connected thousands of Kansans in the final quarter of 2020. Kelly also established the Office of Broadband Development to focus solely on universal broadband coverage in Kansas.