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New Coalition Aims to Eliminate the Digital Divide in Rural Kansas

Connect Americans NowRallying around a plan to eliminate the digital divide by 2022, a diverse group of community leaders, rural advocates and top innovators announced January 2 the national launch of Connect Americans Now and the formation of local partnerships in Kansas.

The new alliance will work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other policymakers to ensure that there is sufficient unlicensed low band spectrum in every market in the country to enable broadband connectivity.

"All Americans – regardless of where they live – deserve access to high-speed internet," said Richard T. Cullen, Executive Director of Connect Americans Now (CAN). "Without a broadband connection, millions of students struggle to keep up with their assignments, Americans in rural areas are unable to fully utilize telemedicine, farmers are denied the promise of precision agriculture and businesses are unable to tap into the world of online commerce. Congress and the FCC must stand with rural America by allowing internet service providers to deliver broadband via white spaces spectrum."

CAN's partners in Kansas include the Lincoln, Rooks and Russell County economic development associations. CAN's national founding members include Microsoft, ACT: The App Association, the National Rural Education Association, the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition, Axiom, the Mid-Atlantic Broadcasting Communities Corporation, the American Pain Relief Institute, HTS Ag, and others. They also are spearheading an advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C., where FCC regulators have the authority to make sufficient unlicensed spectrum available in each market for high-speed internet.

"The digital divide is holding back small, rural communities in states like Kansas," said Janae Talbott, Director of Russell County Economic Development. "Our businesses and our people don't have the same connectivity and access to the Internet as urban population centers, so we can't compete. Connect Americans Now plan to leverage TV white spaces to expand reliable Internet that will put our rural communities on the map."

"A reliable and cost-effective broadband connection will change the lives of millions of Americans who live each day without this basic necessity," said Tad Deriso, President & CEO of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. "Through our pilot project with Microsoft, we have witnessed the transformative effect that providing broadband via TV white spaces brings to rural families who otherwise could not obtain internet service, and hope that the FCC will embrace the potential of Connect Americans Now's plan to close the digital divide."

The plan endorsed by CAN will rapidly accelerate the deployment – and reduce the cost – of high-speed internet service for 23.4 million rural Americans who live each day without broadband access. It does so by taking advantage of unused but powerful bandwidth below the 700 MHz frequency range, also known as TV white spaces, made available on an unlicensed basis. Wireless signals in this range can travel over hills and through buildings and trees and therefore are great for last mile broadband access in rural areas.

From education to telemedicine and precision agriculture to business development, closing the digital divide could transform the lives and livelihoods of rural Americans from all walks of life.

Implications of the digital divide in Kansas and around the US:

  • 6.5 million students lack access to high speed internet, but 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection. More than 100,000 Kansas students reside in rural areas, where more students struggle to keep up with their assignments and fail to learn the computer skills they need to succeed and enter college or the workforce.
  • Telemedicine could collectively save lives and millions of dollars annually for underserved patients and rural hospitals that pay up to three times more for broadband than their urban counterparts. Sixty-four percent of Kansas' hospitals are in rural areas, and broadband connectivity could allow their patients, regardless of where they live, to access specialists and benefit from advanced monitoring services that would normally require hours of travel for patients or their providers.
  • Kansas is home to more than 60,000 farms, and broadband access could bring them promise of precision agriculture, including remote monitoring equipment that helps farmers save money by optimizing irrigation, conserving resources and increasing yields. It also allows farmers to search for new customers, find buyers willing to pay higher prices and identify the most affordable sources of seeds, fertilizers and farm equipment.
  • Small businesses employ more than half of Kansas' workforce, and broadband access will drive economic growth and job opportunities by enabling them to expand their customer base from local to global and attract new industries to rural communities.
  • High-speed internet supports workforce development by allowing rural job seekers to access services online, develop new skills through cloud-based training and secure additional employment opportunities like remote teleworking. It will also allow rural communities to keep and attract new workers who require a broadband connection to carry out their daily responsibilities.

(Information courtesy Connect Americans Now.)

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