Kansas Bill Pushes for Broadband Task Force

While agreement has been reached on the necessity of such a committee, debate remains around who should be appointed to it.

by Mary Clarkin, The Hutchinson News / March 16, 2018

(TNS) — Buhler businessman Daniel Friesen created a not-for-profit Tuesday, and on Thursday, the Kansas Senate Commerce Committee agreed that the new entity should be able to appoint a voting member to the proposed Statewide Broadband Task Force.

Would that appointee be Friesen? Yes, he told The News.

House Bill 2701 has more hurdles to clear before it reaches the Governor's desk, but Senate Commerce's action gave Friesen a chance to achieve his objective of getting a seat on the task force.

Influential board

House Bill 2701 proposes creating the Statewide Broadband Task Force to get input this year to present recommendations to the 2019 Legislature. Lawmakers, in turn, likely will consider funding and a strategy for broadband expansion in 2019. The idea of the task force is widely supported. The debate is over who should sit on the task force.

The pending bill does not identify task force members by name but rather specifies, for example, that the Kansas Rural Independent Coalition will appoint one voting member and the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association will appoint another voting member.

On March 9, Friesen, the chief innovation officer and managing member of IdeaTek Telcom, and Mike Bosch, the Baldwin City founder and chief executive officer of RG Fiber, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, urging that innovators and entrepreneurs be allocated a seat on the task force.

Working the bill

Senate Commerce "worked" the bill Thursday morning, with members offering amendments before sending House Bill 2701 out of committee.

"I have an amendment," said Sen. Dinah Sykes, R-Lenexa, following another Senator who had offered amendments. "I think mine is very simple," she said.

Sykes requested adding a voting position on the task force for an appointee of the Kansas Independent Fiber Association.

Just a question, said State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City. Who is the Kansas Independent Fiber Association? Holland asked.

Sykes said she did not know the answer. She said she was carrying the amendment for a fellow Senator who was not in the room. She did not identify the Senator.

State Sen. Ed Berger, R-Hutchinson, does not serve on Senate Commerce, but he sits beside Sykes in the Senate chamber, and Friesen is a constituent in Berger's Senate District. Berger told The News he requested the amendment that Sykes proposed.

A nod

As the discussion continued in Senate Commerce, Holland asked if both men, Bosch and Friesen, were members of the Kansas Independent Fiber Association.

"I do not know," Sykes said. But Friesen was in the audience and nodding his head, which Committee Chairman Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, noted.

"We're both members," Friesen told The News later. But the intent is that Friesen, resident agent for the Buhler-based not-for-profit, would be the appointee. Documents filed with the Kansas Secretary of State's office list Friesen and Bosch as the two directors for the Kansas Independent Fiber Association. The names of two Hutchinson attorneys, John Swearer and John Caton, also appear on the incorporation records.

"It seemed like there was broad support," Friesen said of Senate Commerce's response to the March 9 testimony, for adding a representative from independent fiber providers to the task force.

Other trade groups - such as cable television - have associations, and Friesen said the fiber providers thought it would be better to have their own association. The incorporation records say the purpose of the new entity is to advocate "for policy that speeds up the deployment of fiber optic infrastructure and supports competition; educates the public on the purpose and need for fast, long-term fiber broadband solutions, and creates broadband solutions that are financially sustainable and deliver" services to remote, rural and unserved areas in Kansas.

"There's a little bit of work to be done," Friesen said Thursday, sounding cautious because the broadband task force bill is still in process. It is expected to be discussed next week in the Senate Utilities Committee.

©2018 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.