School, hospital and library representatives on Tuesday urged legislators to maintain the $10 million per-year Kan-Ed program, which provides broadband access and distance learning.
“Every day, I see the positive impacts of Kan-Ed,” said Diane Trinkle, director of the Nortonville Public Library.
The House General Government Budget Committee was considering House Bill 2390, which would eliminate funding for Kan-Ed.
Created by the Legislature in 2001, Kan-Ed provides broadband to more than 400 public schools, hospitals, libraries and higher education institutions. It is funded through a per-line, per-month fee on phone lines. Most phone customers pay about 25 cents per month for Kan-Ed.
Trinkle said the network helps senior citizens, students, farmers and parents get a wide range of information that they otherwise would have trouble getting.
Hospital representatives said Kan-Ed was crucial in training and in telemedicine, and schools use it to help students get tutoring and access to several databases.
Removal of Kan-Ed would “recreate the digital divide,” said Kansas Board of Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Tompkins.
But telecommunications companies said Kan-Ed was a government-subsidized service that gave it an unfair advantage and competed with private companies.
John Federico, president of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, said Kan-Ed was “another government program that has overreached and lost sight of its original purpose.” He added, “Perhaps it’s time for a little tough love from the Legislature.”
Art Hall, the director of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business, said Kan-Ed has accomplished its goal and should be replaced by the private sector.
Verizon and Sprint also testified in favor of defunding Kan-Ed.
Free video conferencing systems, such as Skype, are available, Hall said. But those using Kan-Ed said its quality and capabilities were much better than they could get through Skype.
Several committee members expressed concerns with salaries at Kan-Ed; eight employees were making a total of about $760,000.
And others said that perhaps hospitals should be paying for the service.
But Dennis George, chief executive officer of the Coffey Health System in Burlington, said Kan-Ed provides connectivity for educational opportunities that his hospital couldn’t afford because of cuts in Medicaid.
Rep. Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, chairman of the General Government Budget Committee, said the committee would work on the bill Wednesday.