Lawmakers approve internet improvements, task force looks ahead to next recommendations

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Millions of dollars are heading toward improving internet for Kansans.

Legislative leaders and Governor Laura Kelly voted to approve $60 million for internet connectivity needs. It will help rural areas without service and improve speeds for communities with slow internet.

Lawmakers and the governor came together during a virtual State Finance Council meeting on Monday.

The money is part of the $1 billion Kansas received from the federal government for coronavirus relief.

50 million dollars will go toward getting infrastructure in place in order to access the internet. 10 million dollars will help low income Kansans be able to afford the price of internet.

“This funding that was approved today, honestly, is a big step in the right direction for us because we will be able to make some immediate impacts,” said Stanley Adams, director of broadband initiatives for the Kansas Department of Commerce.

“We’re interested in projects that have immediate benefit, but also have a long term potential as well,” Adams said.

Supporters said this money is coming at a critical time for Kansans.

“We’ve got to connect our schoolchildren so that they have access should we have to go back to online, and at the same time, telemedicine is just becoming more and more important,” said Lyle Butler, chair of the SPARK Taskforce.

The SPARK task force is the state coronavirus relief committee. It has been coming up with recommendations to lawmakers and the governor on how to spend the federal funding.

The state has nearly $300 million left in in federal coronavirus relief dollars to distribute.

With Congress fighting about what to include in a new stimulus plan, and President Trump putting out new executive orders, it can impact where the money will go.

Money could be sent to local governments, schools, state departments, to help businesses or to replenish the state unemployment fund.

“There’s no shortage of where we need to put money,” Butler said. “In fact, we will not have enough money to meet all the needs that are out there, so it’s a difficult task in trying to determine what is best.”

Kansas has already spent more than $600 million toward economic development, public health and for state and local government.

Butler hopes to have recommendations ready on the nearly $300 million by early September.

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