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Rural high-speed Internet gets a boost

July 4, 2009

The Wichita Eagle

Dial-up is Jim and Brenda Dooley's only access to the Internet on their farm two miles outside the tiny town of Jewell in north-central Kansas.

That puts the Dooleys at a disadvantage in obtaining necessary marketing and other farm-related information for today's fast-paced agricultural world.

"What we do on the Internet is very limited because of the time it takes to download on dial-up," Brenda said.

Norman and Cindy Roth don't have any Internet access. They've opted not to even try dial-up from their farm about 25 miles west of Hutchinson.

"We don't think it's worth our time or money to sit there and wait on dial-up," Cindy said, "so we've decided to wait until something better comes along."

Something better should be on the way.

The federal stimulus package has made $7.2 billion available to improve rural Internet access.

Of that amount, it was announced this week that $4.7 billion would be set aside for loan and grant programs to develop the infrastructure to bring broadband, or high-speed, Internet access to areas throughout the country that don't have access.

As it stands now, there's only anecdotal information, including in Kansas, on areas without access. So the first step is to establish an accurate map of where broadband exists.

The stimulus package has also allocated $350 million for mapping of U.S. broadband access. The plan calls for 80 percent of the mapping costs be paid with federal money and the remaining 20 percent by individual states through private and public money.

Mapping already has begun in Kansas through a collaboration of the Kansas Farm Bureau and Information Network of Kansas, which are providing some of the mapping funds.

Information Network is a quasi-state agency created by the Legislature in 1990 to provide electronic access to government information and services.

Connected Nation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that works to expand access and use of broadband Internet, has already begun the mapping work in Kansas.

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