Topeka A House committee on Wednesday recommended approval of legislation to eliminate a state-run broadband network used by hundreds of schools, hospitals and libraries.
The measure by the House General Government Budget Committee would pull the plug on the Kan-Ed program on July 1, 2012. The House budget committee has already approved a bill that would remove the $10 million in funding for Kan-Ed and put it in the state's general purpose fund.
Members of the General Government Budget Committee said they supported the services that Kan-Ed provided but said its funding needs to come from another source.
Kan-Ed, which was established in 2001, is funded through a monthly 25 cent per line charge on telephone service.
“The funding stream needs to come from somewhere else than taxpayers at large,” said Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane.
Educators, hospital representatives and librarians from across the state have urged legislators to keep Kan-Ed going, saying the network provided invaluable computer access to tutoring, telemedicine and general assistance to Kansans, especially in rural areas.
But telephone and cable companies testified in opposition to Kan-Ed, saying the program had outlived its usefulness and was competing with private companies.
Some legislators expressed concern that Kan-Ed had proposed a bill that telephone and cable companies said showed the program wanted to get into phone service.
But Bradley Williams, Kan-Ed executive director, said the bill was proposed to allow Kan-Ed to gain access to some federal grants. Once the industry had expressed opposition to the bill, Kan-Ed withdrew it, he said.
Several legislators on the Government Budget Committee criticized Williams' operation of Kan-Ed, and said there was a lack of oversight.
Committee Chairman Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, said Williams was directed to provide a contingency funding plan for the plan, and never did.
Rep. Ramon Gonzalez, R-Perry, said he was concerned about the lack of a contingency plan for funding. “I have a contingency if my car breaks down,” he said.
Williams said the Legislature has always been supportive of Kan-Ed.
Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said, “I'm here to tell you, that (support) is waning.”
Williams said 27 states fund similar programs the same way that Kansas does. He said tax funds, telephone charges or user fees are essentially the only way Kan-Ed could be funded.
McLeland and other committee members said perhaps hospitals and schools should be paying user fees for the services. School and hospital representatives have testified that it would be difficult to cover those costs because they have face budget cuts.
McLeland said the bill approved by the committee will give Kan-Ed a year to figure out how to raise funds and what kind of services to offer.