By Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — More than 21,000 Kansas homes and businesses in areas that lack high-speed internet will soon see major improvements in web access for the first time through a state Department of Commerce initiative.
The state will pay for the work using $83.5 million from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury. The CPF provides $10 billion to states, territories and Tribal governments to pay for capital projects to ensure work, education and health systems are stable in an emergency through reliable and affordable broadband infrastructure.
Gov. Laura Kelly announced the start of the plan Thursday, focusing on areas that lack internet speeds of 100/20 Mbps. Kansas estimates this program will cover 8% of locations still lacking high-speed access in the state.
“By connecting 21,000 more Kansas homes to high-speed internet, we’re continuing to deliver on our bold and ambitious goal to make Kansas a top 10 state for broadband access by 2030,” Kelly said. “No one in our state should be without the means to connect to the world, and this new grant program will help ensure that it happens.”
The U.S. Treasury approved plans for Kansas, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota to connect more than 200,000 homes and businesses. In addition, 50 Tribal governments have also had awards approved.
The states will require service providers who obtain grants through the Capital Projects Fund to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program. That program aims to give discounted high-speed internet service to families whose incomes are at or below the federal poverty guidelines. The FCC estimates that about 48 million families are eligible for the program.
The $83.5 million represents 58% of Kansas’s available CPF allocation and will connect an estimated 21,300 homes and businesses.
“The Capital Projects Fund represents the largest grant opportunity to date from the Office of Broadband Development,” said Jade Piros de Carvalho, director of the Kansas Office of Broadband Development. “We are excited about partnering with providers to make a positive impact in communities that have fallen in the digital divide.”
Those eligible to seek assistance from the CPF broadband infrastructure program include internet service providers, political subdivisions, cooperatives and nonprofit organizations who will work to ensure families and businesses have connection.
Grant awardees will be announced in October and November. The grant application window will open July 18 for four weeks online. The Office of Broadband Development will hold an online seminar to review the program guidelines and application process July 21.
“These broadband investments through the American Rescue Plan will help lay the foundation to ensure that every American household and small business has access to affordable, high-speed internet,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a news release. “Treasury commends Kansas for using this funding to bring high-speed internet access to areas where there is demonstrated need and to reduce broadband bills for low-income families.”