The Kansas Department of Commerce and Governor Laura Kelly, have laid out a five year $450 million plan for expanding access to high speed internet statewide. The governor said what many Kansans believe access to reliable high speed internet is no longer a luxury. It's a necessity for education, health care, economic growth and the general quality of life. Put another way, the goal is to make it so all Kansans can live, learn, work, play and compete via the internet, regardless of where they are in the state. Joining the Kansas reflector podcast is J Pireaus. de Carvalho, director of the Kansas office of broadband development, she's agreed to outline for us key elements of a plan to apply federal funding to advance the idea of universal connection to broadband in Kansas. So first, let's kind of set some of the the foundation of this give us a sense of of what the distinction would be between broadband which we want to invest a lot in and what people might have out there or not have?
Sure That's a good question. Our federal funders, the NTIA, the Federal branch of commerce that we're dealing with defines unserved as a household that lacks broadband less than 25 megabits per second down by three megabits per second up, they define underserved as less than 100 megabits per second, and by 20 megabits per second. So there's two kind of definitions we're looking at. We want to make sure we're investing in the highest level of broadband that meets the needs not just for today, and that that lower definition but for the future, which could be gig speeds or even more, and businesses and households that that don't have that connection are really cut off from participating in the economy and our democracy. I mean, literally, everything in our lives today seems to be tied to broadband, right? You can't how many jobs can you apply for that require a paper application? Probably not many that pay a living wage, right? If you want government services, you have to apply online. If you want to see a doctor in your remote area you you can't access telehealth. If you want to go to school remotely, if you want to work from home or work, choose choose where you live, if you have a remote job, all of these things factor into why broadband is so crucial and essential in our everyday lives. Because it really does live at the intersection of so many other things education, healthcare, commerce, entertainment, family connection.
Yeah, it's it's become important. So are there clusters in terms of the services that this this funding might address? Do we have we probably have underserved areas? And then we might have, you know, pockets of like, completely unserved? That's correct. So what's that map look like?
Yeah, well, we estimate that statewide we have about 144,000 locations that are either unserved or underserved. Most of those are unserved, there's about 87,500, I believe, not unlike in many states, where those clusters are kind of concentrated in a few areas in Kansas, they're spread out over all 105 counties, which makes our job a little more difficult. And I also want to point out that although most of those are in rural areas, because you know, it's more difficult to build to, to less density. We also have pockets in urban areas that are uncertain, especially in what we deemed that the industry term is MDU is multi dwelling units. So apartment buildings, especially low income apartments, so it really is universally across Kansas, a barrier for for the whole state.
So millions of bucks have been spent from the federal government on a to help close this gap. Do you have any idea what has been invested in in Kansas in the last five years in terms of broadband access?
Yeah, that's a great question. I know that Governor Kelly has made universal broadband access a really important pillar, her of her administration. And in the last few years, I think since 2019, we've invested 266 million. Now that doesn't include the private investment along with the public investment, but that's over five different programs, starting with the Cares Act funding, as you'll remember, during the pandemic, and I'm moving on to some state programs that the legislature has been really supportive of, as well. So
that's like a lot of money. So for the Libertarians out there who want to know what the heck government's doing wading into this, why haven't private companies you kind of touched on it? Why haven't private companies been able to address this?
Well, we have a lot of fantastic private companies that have addressed even really, really rural areas. But there's a reason there's a digital divide, just like there was a reason certain parts of the country did not have electrification, you know, many decades ago and that is because there is not a business case to be made in these areas that lack population density or have remoteness Churches, you know, not a lot of roads or bodies of water. And so if it's going to take you 25 $50,000 to get to a home, and that's 100 year return on investment, there's no business in the world that would do that. And, and I don't blame them for not doing that. And so that's where we can step in, collaborate with those private businesses and get those, you know, those public private partnerships to help bridge this digital divide together,
that could perhaps offer a personal insight. My parents have farm in Missouri, and they have a house and it sits on a road and there's nothing to the left and right of the house, there's no other residences, but you go down far enough. And they've come in with fiber optic, and they're stopping at the last house there. And they're not doing anything to the other side down here. So it's just a it's just an economic barrier, I think for some companies to just say, you know, we're not going to invest in it, because you're the single customer on your side of this road isn't going to do it
for us. Exactly. Economics 101. It's a classic market failure, just like rural electrification was,
let's talk about processing this money. So a federal agency, National Telecommunications and Information Agency administration, yes, it's all right. So they they kind of earmarked 450 million for Kansas. But Kansas has a responsibility, your office has a responsibility to produce a plan that's suggest how you would spend this money? Well, I guess, and you submit that to them, and you've done that? That's right. We did that last week, okay. And you will they suggest revisions to that you think or if it passes muster, then they just start cutting checks.
Well, we actually have a really good relationship with our federal funders and ran our plan by them multiple times before submission, so that we could ensure that it met their requirements that you touched on two really important things that I wanted to highlight. And one is that every state and territory has to have a plan. And I think that is what is going to set this program apart from other attempts at solving the digital divide. I mean, this country has invested $56 billion over the last decade or so, to solving the digital divide was barely moved the needle, but it's been administered by federal agencies, this money is being administered by the state. So closer to the people, number one, and number two, a plan is required in advance. And our plan, and I think most states did this way was a very grassroots led plan. So we went all across the state, and heard from the lived experience of those, you know, living in the digital divide on what the gaps were in their community. And so when you develop a plan that way, instead of on high, like the government is here to help, you know, I think it makes it more powerful, it's got more buy in, and it's going to be more effective.
So I assume that if your plan is up to snuff, you get your 450 million over the five years, and who vets the applications for these expenditures.
Okay, well, I want to take a step back, because I don't want people to think we have this money in the bank right now. So as a requirement to access these funds, you have to produce four documents. One is the five year action plan. One is the digital equity five year action plan, which we will be releasing next week or next month. One is the initial proposal, and one is the final proposal. So that's that's a lot of documents, we're in the process of finishing our initial proposal, Volume One and Volume Two, that's due by the end of the year, that'll then go to our federal funders for approval, it'll that will then unlock the money that began is what you refer to as these, like the sub recipient grant selection process, who's going to get these dollars, who's going to bet that? Well, in the actual legislation, and in the Notice of Funding Opportunity, the federal documents that outline how the program will be administered, it is very prescriptive as to who qualifies how to qualify, how points are given. I mean, the state of Kansas will have flexibility to kind of move around the scoring matrices, but it's very prescriptive, you have to have financial, managerial and technical capabilities. There will be auditing, reporting compliance. So it's, it's very highly regulated. But you know, that's, that's okay. Because we want to do it right. And we want to ensure that these projects and these networks that are built with them are sustainable, long term, not just for now, but for an entire generation because I don't anticipate seeing another infusion of this level of investment at the federal level, this generation, right, we got it got the these networks for 20 to 30 years minimum.
Yeah. And you want accountability. You want the money spent well, you want people to be able to analyze how it was done, and you just don't need Bob's uncle who likes to do electrical wiring to apply to be a high speed internet installer and Crawford County. Yes.
I will point out that it's not just broadband providers that are eligible for these funds for the first time. It's a local government units, nonprofits, coops, tribal entities, we've met with all four of our tribes and are really working with them on how they can access these funds as well. And so lots of opportunities out there for people to wade into this. But again, we will do our due diligence to ensure that they're capable of managing the network.
underpinning this legis federal legislation and Governor Kelly's goal is what's called referred to sometimes as universal, reliable and affordable access to broadband. So do you think in the end of this five year period, there will still be gaps in the system?
I think that there is a shortfall of funding in some states from bead this, this and for this money, you know, I am so sorry about all the acronyms it's really an acronym soup industry, but be it is broadband equity access and deployment. That's the name of the act within the infrastructure act for the 42 and a half billion that was funneled through states, I digress. So we did not get the allocation we need for Kansas through bead to to get to universal access. Okay, that doesn't mean we're not going to get there. But that's
clearly objective. I just wanted to know if the challenge is a little bit greater than what this 450 million can accomplish.
Yes, but there's there's also funding there for federal agencies we work with the USDA Rural Utility Service has federal grants for broadband, the Federal Communications Commission has something called Enhanced APM that they just rolled out, which might bring an additional 100 and 10 million to Kansas to help, you know, bridge
that short, they print the money. The Treasury
Department, of course, is what we did our capital projects fund through and then we have the NTIA, we are very confident we'll get there. We're not going to get there with just the 451 million, but we've got really strong private partners who are already investing millions and millions in the state. We've got, again, other federal funders, we've got a very supportive governor and a very supportive legislature. This is a bipartisan issue. I feel like the state, you know, may step up, but there's still a shortfall. So I don't think it's acceptable to still have a gap by at least by 2030. I mean this, hopefully sooner we want to get those dollars out. But the urgency is real. You know, you talked about your parents, you know, think of somebody who has school aged children, think of people who you know, want to move back to the farm, but they can't because they can't work remotely. There's an urgency to this, people are being left out of the economy, they're being left out of you know, just everyday living. So we want to get it done as quickly
as you spin wool on your on your farm. And you need people to place orders online. Exactly. If you don't have access to decent internet, people are just going to throw up their hands and go buy it somewhere else.
Well, I tell you, we went to about three different or three dozen different places in Kansas and held town halls in the evenings. And like community centers and church basements and libraries, and every one of those town halls had people from the ag sector, because this is so critical to our state's largest industry sector, they just cannot compete. And it's not good for our you know, for water conservation, if you can't do precision agriculture, it's it's not good for accessing markets in real time. So we're losing so much money opportunity make
a really good point about agriculture is very, very high tech, and you know, water application, fertilizer applications, and in the machinery is being dictated and information being fed back to the home the laptop computer at home and being fed to the tractor. So you I wanted you something you said earlier said Is it a possibility that this program will leverage some private money to as you go about this?
Yes. And in fact, the way that the the bead rules are laid out, it requires a minimum 25% private match before you can access any of the public funds. And the scoring is set up to prioritize higher private matches. So so we know that that 451 will translate to at least about 670 but could be much much more.
Yeah, good. It's interesting. And you know, for accompany there may be not going to make an investment on Gambro Road in Greenwood, Missouri where my parents farm is but but if if they only had to put up 25% up front and some other entity fills in that gap than maybe they will, because going forward. Somebody's going to make money off my my parents having that service. Right?
Correct. And one thing to also consider is that our office will identify the areas of eligibility and require anyone bidding on that area to provide service to every location within it. So it won't be like prior grant programs where you could kind of identify Which pockets you want to serve? We don't want anyone left behind. And that's the best way to ensure that everyone is picked up, you might get this, this concentrated Town Center, but you're gonna have to pick out, pick up these outliers, right?
I see. I see interesting, okay.
And yeah, go here, parents state got 1.7 million, they got the third highest allocation. So they're going to be just fine.
Well, let's hope Missouri doesn't blow it. So so with the work that people are going to do out there on the ground are either going to lay lay fiber optic cable, I guess wireless service could be an option. Is that what we're talking about?
Yes, that's correct. Now, our federal funders did outline in the rules, that fiber should be prioritized. And if we had enough money, we are to build fiber to every location, we've done. So many iterations of cost modeling, and there's just not a universe where we feel we're going to get to universal connectivity. If we tried to do 100% fiber, I sure wish we could, it is the most future proof technology, there's fiber in the ground. Now that's been there for 40 years, and is still working with new electronics on the end, that we're anticipating using about a 75% fibre 25% of fixed wireless mix of technologies. And just
because I'm not very technical, I understand what fiber optic running around underground is. But say what the explain the wireless,
so fixed wireless, so wireless, it's a little bit more difficult to wrap your brain around, but it's basically using radio waves, like this podcast, to, to get broadband into homes, and you might
have repeaters in in an area that would continue to bounce,
exactly, they'll have towers up, and then you'll have an apparatus, some hardware on the outside of your house. And, and then the broadband is delivered over radio waves. And there are different spectrums, along that that wavelength, and in only certain spectrums that are licensed, I'm getting into the weeds here are allowable under this program, because they're more, they're more reliable, and they offer higher speeds.
Now you're gonna have some challenges when you do this, you got infrastructure availability, you got labor issues, you know, you have the supply chain, there could be challenges, you could come up with the greatest plan ever, but getting it implemented in next five years is gonna depend on some other folks. Right?
Exactly. And there's, you know, also the fact that every single state and territory is getting these funds. So that's definitely putting those sorts of constraints and pressures. But that's one reason why Kansas is trying to move very quickly, because we don't want to be in a position where we're last in line in the nation, competing for those resources. In addition, as part of our plan, we will be submitting workforce development, and we're trying to get permission to access up to 5% of that 451 million for workforce development activities before we begin allocating the funds for projects. So train installed. Exactly. So we're working on a pilot program, for instance, with North Central Technical College or north central Kansas, the one thing and then one, I think, Barton County, and will we hope to use opportunities with our, with our private providers to, you know, help with apprenticeships or certifications, there are a lot of different job designations that we're working with, you know, the apprenticeship office and workforce in commerce to to try to tackle that because it's the, you know, people bring that up as a barrier a lot. And it is, but it's not just the infrastructure act, it's the infrastructure investment and jobs act. And so I think it's a really exciting time, it's a really exciting opportunity to grow a new industry and a new workforce for that industry. So we're ready for the challenge and working with a lot of different partners to to ensure that that barrier gets addressed.
So you know, you can have this great service that you guys plumped into the ground. But people are still going to have to purchase internet service from a provider. So that might be cost prohibitive. And so people who don't have good internet right now could again be left out if they just can't simply can't afford because Internet can be expensive.
Yeah, I think I think you bring up a really excellent point. We're working with a national nonprofit called education superhighway that's done an analysis that shows that two thirds of the digital divide is not actually a lack of infrastructure. It's the affordability issue, right. The FCC does have a program called the affordable connectivity program, another acronym for you, ACP that offers a $30 subsidy to households that make less than 200% of the federal poverty level for their broadband service. And so we have we have embarked on a campaign. Governor Kelly has been really supportive in this and signed on to this, this kind of outreach campaign in Kansas to increase the number of people who who sign up for that program, unfortunately, only about 25% of the Kansans eligible for the program are currently using it. And we see that it's not just a benefit to those low income households, but also to the providers who have a better business case for maintenance of that network because they have a higher subscription rate. One thing that I think our federal funders did really well on this program is that they were requiring anyone who applies for this grant to not just sign up to offer the ACP, that low income, but also have a middle income program as well. So like a $60 a month, or 70, forget each state gets to gets to kind of outline what that looks like for their state. So that's never been done before in these efforts, as we build these out, it doesn't really matter if it's running by your home, if you can afford to take it.
Right, right. Yeah, that's how I was thinking about anything else that you would like to share with folks out here?
Well, yeah, thank you for giving me that opportunity. Because like I said, it doesn't matter if you, you know, you can't afford it. But even if you can't afford it, it doesn't really matter. You're not really fully utilizing that asset. If you don't have a device, like a tablet or laptop, if you're just trying to do it, some people probably don't have it. Exactly, yeah. And even if you do have a buy a device, if you don't have the digital skills, to use that device, effectively, we really haven't solved the digital divide. And so what's so exciting about this opportunity is it's not just focused on access. We'll also be, as I, as I mentioned earlier, submitting a five year digital equity plan that will outline how we're going to help with affordability measures, device distribution, and digital skills training. And we also, you know, created that plan in conjunction with nonprofits, agencies, boots on the ground grassroots effort of like, where are these gaps? And how can we fix it? So I'm really looking forward to releasing that in September. And I hope that your audience and and others will weigh in on it, we'll have a public comment period of 30 days. So really, really interested in hearing what we got wrong, what we could do better to improve the plan before we submit it.
Right. Very good. I know you've been out there wandering around Kansas, talking to people about this. So some of this, you've already learned from people about what their needs are in various places. So you have a good sense of that. Yeah,
that's how we drafted those plans. Yeah. But you know, there's, it's hard to, it's hard to get everyone and we want to listen to everyone. We want everyone's voice and stamp on these plans
are. Jay, thank you for coming in and talk to us about this important program. I think, you know, you've got five years to work on it. And at some point in the future, you should come back and we'll see what kind of grade to give you on your job. It's a massive undertaking, but super important.
Yes. Well, I just really appreciate you elevating the issue and giving me this opportunity. So thank you so much. Yeah, thank you