IdeaTek wins $7.9 million Kansas Capital Project Funds broadband grant to build fiber along U.S. Highway 83
An area along U.S. Highway 83 between Liberal and Scott City — dotted with dozens of feed yards and farms and hundreds of unserved homes— will soon have fiber internet thanks to a $7.9 million Kansas Capital Project Funds broadband grant.
On Thursday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly awarded the funding to IdeaTek Telcom — a Kansas-owned and Buhler-based Internet provider with a mission of delivering fiber to rural areas. The project will build nearly 400 miles of fiber and help connect 1,085 households and farming operations, plus about two dozen feed yards located along the major High Plains agriculture corridor.
The IdeaTek grant aims to solve the digital divide. U.S. Highway 83 between Liberal and Scott City is sparsely populated, making broadband deployment exceptionally challenging for service providers without grant funding and strong community partnerships.
However, IdeaTek’s unique project combines rural economic vitality, intelligent transportation infrastructure and next-generation scalable fiber-to-the-farm broadband for a remote area. The project also represents a collaborative partnership between the region’s agriculture sector and a rural internet provider, said Daniel Friesen, IdeaTek’s co-founder and chief innovations officer.
“Our mission of Internet Freedom means we believe all Kansans should have access to ultra-speed fiber broadband – no matter if you live in a city or on a remote farm or ranch,” Friesen said. “Residents and businesses along the U.S. 83 corridor have never experienced true broadband technology. Most of these homes directly support our state’s agricultural economy. Giving our farmers and ranchers reliable and advanced access for precision agriculture and other advanced tools is long overdue considering the critical impact they deliver to Kansas.
“Bridging the digital divide in Kansas wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the
Kansas Department of Commerce’s Office of Broadband Development,” Friesen said. “This grant will allow us to provide an important agricultural area with an affordable, future-proof communication infrastructure.”
Friesen added the project would not be possible without the support from the residents who live along the route, as well as their local government leaders and community stakeholders. Financial contributions were pledged from the Seward County Commission, Finney County Commission and High Choice Feeders.
The grant will change the lives of Seward County residents, said Eli Svaty, executive director of the Seward County Development Corporation.
“We are a rural county and the cost of bringing high-speed internet to our farmers and ranchers has kept companies from investing in those areas,” he said. “IdeaTek has proven that they are willing to make those investments, and we’re thrilled that the State of Kansas and the Office of Broadband Development are willing to share in that investment.
Svaty said county leaders have been working towards broadband improvements for more than a decade. State and federal investments over the past few years have finally begun to answer those calls.
“Industrial agriculture grows more complex each year, and it is critical that farmers and ranchers have download and upload speeds that support the work they are doing to feed the world,” he said. “This broadband expansion along US-83 will provide that resource and ensure we stay competitive as a region.
“While this grant award won’t completely cover the county, it gets us significantly closer, and we’re excited to continue working with IdeaTek and the Office of Broadband Development to do more.”
Several western Kansas lawmakers also supported the project, including Rep.Shannon Francis, who represents Seward County.
“Rural broadband expansion is a critical part of economic development, educational advancement and agribusiness growth,” Francis said. “The High Plains Corridor is a major agriculture region, and this grant provides important funding to build state-of-the-art fiber internet in an area that would not have been possible otherwise. That’s an absolute game-changer.”
High-tech on the range
Having broadband speeds is critical in the livestock industry where animal health information and security are of high importance, said Doug Claussen, chief executive officer at High Choice Feeders located in southern Scott County.
That’s why the feed yard pledged funding toward the project. Claussen said the operation uses a tremendous amount of technology such as software to record animal health data, as well as GPS coordinates for each pen. However, unreliable internet makes it tough to share the information with veterinarians, nutritionists or even just between his two locations.
“High Choice Feeders has been negatively impacted by unreliable internet service in this region, and it has limited our ability to grow,” Claussen said.
Claussen has been working for years to get a provider to invest in the region. He found IdeaTek had a solution.
“We chose to partner with IdeaTek because they have a proven track record of solving similar problems for other areas of rural Kansas,” he said. “For generations, agriculture in western Kansas has succeeded because of its natural resources and the pioneering spirit of its people. That success will only continue if agriculture business operators have access to the latest technology, which requires a fast and reliable internet connection.
“We want to thank the Kansas Department of Commerce for funding this application and making this investment in rural broadband in Western Kansas. This will help ensure that agriculture in this region has every tool at its disposal to continue to efficiently feed a growing global population.”
Opportunity to grow precision agriculture
For western Kansas, this also means improved use of limited water resources, according to Susan Metzger, associate director for agriculture and extension at Kansas State University who wrote a letter of support for the project.
“This investment in fiber connectivity along the Highway 83 corridor is also an investment in the state’s largest economic driver — agriculture — and our rural Kansas communities,” she said. “Adoption of precision agricultural technology is key to improved management of crop and livestock.”
Metzger added, “High-speed connectivity is essential to the accelerated adoption of precision agricultural technology and practices that will help us extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer.”
Reliable internet is needed to operate today’s farming operations with 21st-century technology, said Brian Vulgamore, a fifth-generation farmer in southern Scott County.
Efficiency, driven by technology, is key in the semi-arid High Plains. Tools like precision weed control, intensive field scouting and irrigation management help farmers save money and be more efficient. Additionally, the use of video conferencing and innovative cloud-based software opens the doors to widespread collaboration.
“In the past 10 years, the advent of cloud-based software allows farmers to manage their farms at a more precise level in real-time. While this increases productivity, it also allows them to become better stewards of their land by conserving the use of irrigation water, herbicides, and fertilizer,” he said. “You can’t take advantage of cloud-based technology without reliable broadband. That’s imperative.”
Vulgamore is excited about partnering with IdeaTek because the company shares the same work-related values.
“While talking with Daniel, we became excited about potential opportunities on our farm,” he said. “They run their company the same way we do – they don’t want to be stagnant; they strive to become better and more efficient. When they hit a barrier, they don’t quit. That is what we do on our farm — we are continually innovating to help us break through barriers and solve problems.”
The Kansas Department of Transportation is developing a dig-once policy that enables partnerships with broadband providers like IdeaTek. This will help deploy intelligent transportation infrastructure while also deploying broadband infrastructure. KDOT’s policy should be in place before the deployment starts in order to improve the ability to stretch tax dollars associated with improved highway safety and technology innovations along Kansas highways.
IdeaTek will begin construction in early 2023. For more information on the project or to sign up for service, visit ideatek.com.
About IdeaTek Telcom
IdeaTek Telcom, LLC, is a Buhler, Kansas-based broadband service provider with the mission of “fighting for Internet Freedom.” IdeaTek uses a unique and innovative approach to deploy scalable, long-term fiber optic infrastructures, bridging the broadband gap in rural communities. The company has already successfully built over 4,000 miles of fiber throughout Kansas. IdeaTek has long been at the forefront on broadband equity issues and is committed to enriching the communities in which they operate. They were recently named to Inc. 5000’s list of fastest-growing companies for the ninth time.ar