(TNS) — Gov. Jeff Colyer was in Salina Tuesday to sign a bill into law creating a task force that will map locations across the state where broadband connectivity is problematic and develop plans for addressing those needs.
"Broadband is essential for the state of Kansas. It's absolutely critical for every community in our state," Colyer said before signing the bill at the new Cox store at 2950 S. Ninth St. "Whether you're on the Colorado line or you're in Kansas City and everywhere in between, broadband is important in the 21st century."
Erik Sartorius, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said during a recent Senate hearing about the issue that legislators learned that for some Kansas schoolchildren, completing a class assignment may require a trip to the library — not for books, but for the Wi-Fi connection outside of the building.
"We heard of an example in Meade, where kids go to school, they come home and have dinner, and then they ride their bikes back down to the library that's closed because that is the one place they know they can get good connectivity to do their homework," Sartorius said. "The concept of books and homework is one that is rapidly going away, I'm finding out. So being able to have that access is the building block for us keeping and maintaining a good, viable workforce in Kansas."
He said that in Newton, residential connectivity tends to be better than business connections, so employees often conduct business from home over their lunch hours.
There are also many areas that have Internet connection, but not at speeds fast enough to stream video. Sartorius said while problems are common in rural areas, there are cities in Johnson County that don't have broadband.
A proposed Federal Communications Commission definition of broadband is an Internet connection of 25 megabits or greater, said Coleen Jennison, Kansas market vice president for Cox. She said Cox is the state's largest broadband service provider, and residential customers in Salina and 91 other cities the company serves all have up to 300 megabits available.
"Gig services have been available to business customers in our 92 communities for more than 10 years; we are pleased to announce by the end of 2018 the majority of our communities — Salina included — will have access to residential gig services," she said.
She said all Cox residential customers will have a gig available by 2019.
She said the larger data availability is important to online gamers and for movie downloading, but it also has applications for telemedicine, smart city technologies, live-streaming online classes and other applications.
Jennison said Cox is a "big proponent" of the creation of a task force to develop solutions for unserved areas.
"I think the whole conversation is on the table — it's just time," she said. "We've had billions of dollars come into the state, and we still have a problem, so let's get together and find smart ways to solve it."
Sartorius said current maps designate the availability of broadband by census tract, but the committee will be developing maps that are much more specific and accurate.
"The importance of broadband for cities and businesses across Kansas is unquestionable for our residents," he said. "It's no longer a luxury. It's the backbone of commerce, education and provision of services — both governmental and nongovernmental."
City Manager Jason Gage said the effort is needed statewide to keep the state competitive.
"What we realized in Salina is that it's not just about having the bandwidth at the house, this is about businesses and the ability for all businesses to move forward," he said. "As a community we compete across the state and across the country, and with the state of Kansas we're in competition as well. We want the best jobs, so we have to have the infrastructure for that."
©2018 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.