A nonprofit rural telephone cooperative has won $101 million in grants and loans to bring broadband Internet service to a broad swath of northwest Kansas.
Rural Telephone Service of Lenora and its broadband subsidiary, Nex-Tech of Hays, plan to use the money to offer wire and wireless service to 23,000 people over 11 counties.
"It will cover 4,600 square miles," said Rural Telephone CEO Larry Sevier. "That's why it's such a massive project. There's nothing close together."
It's the first grant awarded to Kansas as part of the Broadband Initiatives Program, which is part of the federal stimulus act. The program makes loans and grants for rural broadband projects as economic development and job creation.
Altogether, the government will hand out $2.5 billion to bring broadband service to rural and underserved communities.
Sevier said they plan to use two technologies for their project.
For the those living in towns, they plan to bring wires to the homes and businesses. For rural residents, they will build towers that will broadcast signals that repeat to other towers and eventually are picked up at the homes by dedicated antennas.
Sevier estimates it will generate 400 jobs during the three-year construction phase and 17 full-time permanent positions for the phone company.
As soon as they get the checks from the government, they will bring in three engineering firms to begin designing the systems and hiring the subcontractors.
$49.6 million of the total is a grant. $51.6 million is a loan. It will be repaid from fees charged to customers.
Sevier acknowledged that's a lot of money at risk, but he said he is confident. His company has done similar projects.
It just finished a $70 million project in which it wired a number of towns in western and central Kansas, including the downtown area of Hays, for broadband, he said.
The counties included in the latest project include Decatur, Ellis, Gove, Graham, Norton, Osborne, Phillips, Rooks, Sheridan, Smith and Trego.