IdeaTek Wins CARES Funding to Fast-Track Rural Internet Access in Reno County and Surrounding Areas
Thursday, October 15, 2020
When Tamera Heitschmidt received a $600 cellular hotspot bill last spring, she was ready to pack her beloved rural Nickerson home and buy a place in town. The costs of running a website development business on a slow, spotty mobile hotspot connection were driving her to a breaking point. It was also the only tenable option available.
Now, Heitschmidt and thousands of residents in more than 1,900 Reno County area homes can celebrate a breakthrough, thanks to rural internet pioneer IdeaTek and a Kansas Connectivity Emergency Response Grant (CERG). IdeaTek announced on Thursday that the company will complete a $2.5 million infrastructure investment in the area, including $2 million in CERG funding.
This investment will provide gigabit fiber to homes in the towns of Arlington, Abbyville, Langdon, Pretty Prairie and Willowbrook and ultra-fast unmetered wireless internet to rural residents and businesses throughout Reno County and parts of Kingman, Rice, McPherson, and Pratt counties.
IdeaTek will begin infrastructure construction immediately, with service becoming available in early 2021.
Rural Reno County has long suffered from slow or spotty broadband access, but the situation became urgent when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Suddenly everyone was trying to work and study from home through spotty connections bogged down by high demand.
“We’ve known internet access in Reno County has been inequitable all along, it’s just been exacerbated and highlighted by COVID-19,” said Aubrey Abbott Patterson, CEO of Hutchinson Community Foundation. “This is a problem that we can’t wait to fix. It needs to happen now.”
In March, IdeaTek immediately rallied with the community, organizations, schools and residents to provide 32 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the county and the surrounding area, but they knew it wasn’t a long term solution.
That’s when IdeaTek put their heads together with Hutchinson Community Foundation, Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of Reno County to hatch a plan to build rural broadband infrastructure and subsidize connections for low-income families, in ways that would creatively leverage local resources rather than waiting for government funding that might not materialize. Hutchinson Community Foundation offered a $215,000 loan, which attracted an additional $225,000 loan and $25,000 grant from the Kansas Community Investment Fund, a fund created through a partnership between the Kansas Health Foundation and NetWork Kansas. Greater Hutch, the economic development partnership for Reno County, committed to a $30,000 workforce grant, and United Way of Reno County pledges to help get the word out about this new internet service to low-income families.
The coalition’s initial groundwork gave IdeaTek a head start when the Kansas Department of Commerce announced Connectivity Emergency Response Grants this summer. The $2 million CERG award supplemented by local funding allows IdeaTek to reach many more homes than state funding alone.
“Reno County is our home, we have been working tirelessly for years to close the digital divide and come up with a collaborative plan to resolve Reno County’s connectivity inequities,” said Friesen. “This grant is a huge win for the community and a unique opportunity to close the rural funding gap for good and make our collaborative, county-wide plan a reality. We’re grateful to our local partners for their relentless advocacy and the Department of Commerce’s Stanley Adams, Secretary Toland, and Governor Kelly for acting on the urgent need for rural broadband by offering CARES funding.”
“This is a massive project to complete in a short timeframe, and we ask that communities help us fast-track the permit process so we can start construction as soon as possible,” he said. “We promise it’ll be worth it.”
Individuals interested in IdeaTek internet can check future availability and sign up now for service at https://ideatek.com/ by clicking “Check Availability” and filling out the form. IdeaTek’s service plans include unlimited usage, and contracts are not required. Premium WiFi and landline phones with unlimited long distance are also available.