Topeka A state-run network that provides broadband access to hundreds of schools, libraries and hospitals, but has angered powerful telecommunications interests may have received a reprieve on Tuesday from the legislative chopping block.
Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, and chair of the Senate Utilities Committee, indicated his committee wasn’t going to act on a House-approved bill that would pull the plug on Kan-Ed.
Instead, Apple directed Kan-Ed leaders to get with cable and phone company lobbyists and make peace.
“Good people are involved and I think they’ll come up with a solution,” Apple said.
Apple told Andy Tompkins, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents, which administers Kan-Ed, to meet this summer with representatives of the telecommunications industry. Tompkins said he would be more than happy to do that. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Earlier, lobbyists from Sprint, Verizon Wireless and the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association said Kan-Ed was providing services that private companies could provide.
John Federico, president of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, said Kan-Ed “appears to be another government program that has overreached and lost sight of its original purpose.”
Kan-Ed was created in 2001 and is funded with a monthly 25 cent per line charge on telephone service. That raises about $10 million per year for its operation.
The House approved a measure that would stop funding Kan-Ed on July 1, 2012.
But a long line of people representing libraries, hospitals and schools told the Utilities Committee that Kan-Ed provides a vital service that they otherwise could not get or could not afford to get.
Health care officials said Kan-Ed has been instrumental in expanding telemedicine, which has allowed patients in rural areas to access specialized physicians without having to travel long distances.
“The rural nature of our state coupled with the anticipated health care workforce shortages in future years makes expanding telemedicine programs in Kansas imperative,” said Chad Austin, vice president of government relations for the Kansas Hospital Association.
Schools, especially in smaller districts, are dependent on Kan-Ed for providing long-distance learning opportunities, such as calculus and foreign language in schools that don’t have those subject teachers.
And officials representing small libraries said they would lose quality Internet access or access altogether without Kan-Ed.