WABAUNSEE CO., Kan. (KSNT) – Internet is something many Americans use every day, especially during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, and it can be hard to imagine life without it. However, for residents of Wabaunsee County, it’s a reality.
After months of planning, leaders have been able to bring proper internet to over 1,000 homes and businesses in the county.
“We realized as a county that one of the biggest challenges we have nowadays is the internet is a huge part of our lives, and that it is not very easily… accessible… in rural Wabaunsee County,” said Wabaunsee County Commission Chairman Joel Fager.
When the coronavirus pandemic caused the county’s students to switch to online schooling, the community faced a realization as to how poor their internet access was.
“It really hit a lot of families hard on the remote learning and attempting to find the amount of access they needed to even just log on and get their assignments from the school,” said Mike Bohn, superintendent for the City of Eskridge. “The school itself struggles as well to have the amount of bandwidth that they needed as well.”
That was when the Wabaunsee County SPARKS Committee knew they needed to make accessible internet for their community a priority, and they did.
The committee applied for four federal CARES Act grants through the Kansas Department of Commerce, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to help improve wireless and broadband internet across Wabaunsee County.
The county is working with internet providers Mercury Broadband, WTC Communication and Tri-County Telephone to provide access to 75% of the places considered “underserved.” County leaders hope this will help students participating in remote learning, as well as people working from home.
“Internet is part of our lives now, and it’s not going anywhere,” Fager said. “It’s important to have that as a benefit to have that in your home just to make a living.”
The providers have already begun working on the towers for the residents.
Mercury Broadband will also be providing low-income families with discounts for three years of service to ensure they are not missing out on this opportunity.
“That’ll help them get those kids up to speed, literally, on doing their learning and the access to the information that they need to continue to grow,” Bohn said.
The county leaders also hope having better internet will be an economic opportunity for more people and businesses to come live in Wabaunsee County.
The projects must be completed by Dec. 30, as a stipulation for the grants from the CARES Act. The leaders hope to continue applying for grants in the future, so they can eventually have all of the county covered with proper internet.