Gov. Kelly creates Office of Broadband Development, announces $50M investment
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order Thursday creating a state Office of Broadband Development.
Kelly was joined at a Statehouse news conference announcing the plan by Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, Commerce Secretary David Toland, Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz, and Stanley Adams, current director of broadband initiatives for the state Commerce Dept. who will head up the office.
Adams said, "There is still much work to do, but know for certain, that we are now better positioned than ever before to deliver improved broadband access that addresses the current and future needs of our schools, our hospitals, our businesses, our communities.”
Along with creating the office, state officials announced a $49.3 million investment in 67 projects at 160 locations around the state. Toland says the projects will give access to more than 76,000 households and nearly 6,000 businesses. Adams called broadband access one of the state’s best economic development tools.
“We know the fallout of the infrastructure shortcoming on our economic well-being, health, and quality of life has been undeniable in communities of all sizes. These challenges have been amplified by COVID-19," said Toland. “Now we are ready to strengthen the broadband infrastructure that is essential to companies so that they can choose Kansas and provide more, good jobs and opportunities both today and the future.”
Lorenz said many projects will coupled with the IKE transportation program, to utilize a “dig once” approach, allowing crews to install cable as part of highway construction projects.
Among investments, Lorenz mentioned a project to give access to eight communities - including Great Bend, Winfield, and Burrton - and include 12-month vouchers for students. She also mentioned improvements in Dickinson Co. which will allow for telemedicine connections. Also on the list is more than $600,000 for Jefferson Co. to build a new tower for improving emergency communications, and also providing a platform for internet service providers to increase access for the entire county.
“It’s important to remember that high speed internet access isn’t just about videos or games, it is a singular tool that can close the equity gap between communities and bridge the urban, rural divide," said Kelly. “If we are serious about competing in today’s global economy and recruiting the best talent to come to our state and keeping our children in the towns they grew up, then we must do everything in our power to end the digital divide.”
Kelly and other state officials said the need to improve broadband access was magnified as schools shifted to remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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