Governor, FCC commissioner urge community to share success stories from fiber optic cable access
At an event Wednesday in the downtown Baldwin City office of RG Fiber, Gov. Sam Brownback and Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai encouraged those in the community to share success stories as fiber optic Internet comes online in the community.
RG Fiber is currently installing fiber optics to Baldwin City on a route that will also serve Eudora and Lawrence. Mike Bosch, the company’s CEO, said it will “light up” the service in August with Baker University being the first customer.
Sitting beside Brownback and Pai, Bosch anticipated the governor and commissioner’s request by asking those attending the gathering to share stories of how access to fiber optic cable would affect them. What he heard was fiber optic cable would keep Baldwin City competitive with metropolitan centers and give it a competitive advantage on other smaller communities without access.
Baker University President Lynne Murray said access would help in attracting students from the Kansas City metropolitan area and larger Kansas cities accustomed to a “lifestyle” that included access to high-speed Internet through their cell phones, tablets and laptops.
“It will help distinguish Baker University,” she said. “It will help with recruiting and programming.”
The community as a whole would share that competitive advantage, Baldwin City Mayor Marilyn Pearse said.
“It gives us a leg up on communities our size with people looking for high-speed Internet access — homeowners and well as businesses,” she said.
Baldwin City has already heard from companies interested in relocating here because of RG Fiber’s initiative, Pearse said.
There’s also been success in retaining a company and, possibility, growing one, said Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe. RG Fiber’s commitment to bring gigabit fiber to the community was central in McDonough Elevators staying in the city’s business park, he said. The company that provides elevators and lifts for a host of construction, industrial, power plant and off-shore applications would have left the community without the promise of gigabit service, he said.
Gigabit access also creates an opportunity for Ken Wagner of Heritage Tractor to locate the headquarters of the company’s nine John Deere franchises in Baldwin City, a move that could bring as many as 50 jobs, Lowe said.
Those success stories in rural communities can only result from the efforts of smaller entrepreneurs like Bosch, said Rick Tidwell, president of ValuNet, which provides fiber optic service to Emporia. Larger telecommunications companies have no interest in smaller communities because they can realize a much better return on investment in metropolitan settings, he said.
It is important that local success stories are heard in Washington, D.C., said Pai, a Parsons native. Those personal stories in what he called “the democratization” of information access have more effect than data-point presentations that make the same point, he said.
Brownback, too, encouraged the community to share its success as the fiber optic service comes online. He pointed to positive things happening in rural Kansas, such as an increase in kindergarten enrollment, but said momentum was dependent on high-speed Internet access.
The problem was financing, especially with the disinterest of large companies in extending service to smaller markets, Brownback. There could be ways the state could help smaller entrepreneurs with the financing needed to extend fiber optic cable to rural Kansas towns and cities, the governor said.
“This is the sort of thing we ought to look at,” he said.