In 2013 the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, comprised of representatives of the major taxing authorities in Topeka and Shawnee County, agreed to work on an issue that was of interest to all its members and their constituents – access to advanced broadband services in the community.
Why is broadband important?
Fast, reliable Internet service is essential infrastructure for economic and community development, supporting market expansion efforts, business creation and offering the ability to attract and retain businesses and young people in a community. It also is critical infrastructure for public safety, education, health care, employment searches and community engagement – all elements that contribute to a high quality of life in a community. In communities where there is economic disparity and poverty, it helps bridge the digital divide.
Students, who are expected to do homework and research online, are able to learn and achieve more; farmers are able to use real-time data to reduce crop damage and increase productivity; job-seekers can shorten the duration of their unemployment by as much as 25%;
Broadband supports both individual and economic vitality. It is the lifeblood of our information society, fueling economic growth and innovation and facilitating learning and civic engagement.
Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler, Mayor Larry Wolgast and Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library CEO Gina Millsap coordinated the project in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Commerce (KDOC). Topeka and Shawnee County was selected as one of four communities in Kansas to pilot a community-based broadband planning process that included:
- Community engagement meetings of stakeholders including telecommunications service providers
- Development of goals
- Access to data including a feasibility and Return On Investment (ROI) study on an advanced broadband network build and an economic impact study
The documents listed in the right-hand sidebar on this page include the final plan with a focus on three goals:
- Encouraging digital entrepreneurship
- Bridging the digital divide
- Increasing digital literacy. (The definition of literacy has evolved in the 21st century. The basic definition of literacy means the ability to read and write. To be successful in today’s digital world, literacy goes far beyond being able to read and write. Being digitally literate is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.)
Also included are a feasibility/ROI study to demonstrate that a significant investment in an advanced broadband network would be profitable and return significant benefits to providers and community residents and an economic impact study that projects the value of the project at a minimum of $1.2 billion over ten years.
In 2016, Mayor Wolgast convened a Broadband Project Team that was charged with developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Broadband Consulting Services to be submitted to the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO) for funding. This RFP is requesting responses from qualified consulting firms to assist JEDO in discovering and implementing a plan/public-private partnership necessary to provide sufficient, reliable and affordable high speed broadband service delivery to the residents of Topeka and Shawnee County. Information regarding JEDO and the RFP may be found at http://www.jedoecodevo.com.
The Project Team has worked with Tilson representatives from August, 2017 to March, 2018 to evaluate the feasibility of several potential broadband technologies and business models for enabling a new broadband network in Topeka and Shawnee County and creating a connected community.
The overall project goals are:
- Identify the parameters for a successful County-wide broadband solution
- Improve affordability and access to broadband services for all residents and businesses in Shawnee County
- Begin a conversation with Topeka and Shawnee County to find a politically acceptable solution.
Broadband consultants Christopher Campbell and Elissa Tracey of Tilson Technology Management were in Topeka on March 26 – 27, 2018 to meet with the Project Team and stakeholders. Attendees heard and gave feedback on a draft of the report that will be submitted to the JEDO Board. A video of that meeting may be viewed here. https://youtu.be/8YIG9DWSjng
Tilson representatives are finalizing the report and presentation in consultation with the Project Team in preparation for a presentation to the JEDO Board at its May 9, 2018 meeting. The Project Team will also request to proceed with issuing a request for information to determine what broadband models presented might be implemented in Topeka and Shawnee County.
The documents that will be presented to the JEDO Board will be made available here as soon as they are finalized.
The members of the project team are: Mark Biswell, Director of Information Technology, City of Topeka, Pat Oblander, Director of Information Technology, Shawnee County, Patrick Clear, Coordinator of Technology Auburn-Washburn Schools, Barbara Stapleton, Vice-President of Workforce and Education, GoTopeka and Gina Millsap, Chief Executive Officer, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.