Statehouse Live: Kan-ed services slashed as its future under consideration

? A state broadband network has slashed its services to schools, hospitals and libraries as legislators discussed Tuesday whether it should even exist.

Kan-ed discontinued LiveTutor, a heavily used service providing online tutor support for students, on July 1. Other services for research, educational databases and a service that helps hospitals respond to emergency situations have been cut by 50 percent.

“These value-added services have played a vital role in the lives of many Kansans,” Kan-ed director Jerry Huff told a committee of legislators.

But several members of the Kan-ed Study Committee said Kan-ed has gone beyond its original intent. When devised in 2001, they said, Kan-ed was supposed to provide Internet connection, not content, and it was supposed to be self-sufficient after several years.

“I don’t think the original intent was that it was supposed to be a continual funding stream from the Legislature,” said Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia.

Kan-ed was set up by the Legislature to provide for a broadband-technology-based network so that schools, libraries and hospitals could connect for broadband Internet access and intranet access for distance learning. It is funded through a monthly charge on telephone service that was 25 cents per line, but is now 17 cents per line.

The program came under strong criticism during the 2011 legislative session. Telephone and cable companies complained that Kan-ed was competing with the private sector.

Kan-ed was cut from $10 million to $6 million this year. The study committee is basically looking at what form, if any, Kan-ed will take in the future.

Andy Tompkins, president and chief executive of the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees Kan-ed, said the program has responded to many of the concerns of legislators, but he urged them to provide further direction.

“Do you want it to exist? Do you want it to have content? Do you think we ought to subsidize? Expecting us to know what is in your mind is going to be hard to do,” Tompkins said.

Educators, hospital representatives and librarians have said Kan-ed and its content are invaluable, providing telemedicine, help to students and general assistance to more and more Kansans who, because of the economic slump, rely on accessing the Internet at no charge.

Huff said that because there is a demand for Kan-ed services, whatever the Legislature decides will have to be paid for in some manner.

“If you say to libraries, ‘you have to pay for it yourselves,’ then you just pushed it back on the library. What pocket do you want to take it out of? It’s all taxpayer money,” he said.