Fiber optic network almost ready to serve rural Kansans

Completion of a 2,600-route-mile fiber optic network to serve high-speed Internet and data needs of Kansas rural communities is just a couple of months away, said the top official of the Wichita-based company behind the network.

And that company, Kansas Fiber Network, hopes to benefit from finishing the network, in part by ramping up its employment.

Steven Dorf, KFN's president, said this week that the company has doubled its staff — to eight employees — in the past week, and he hopes to be up to between 18 and 20 employees by year's end.

"These aren't low-paying (jobs)," Dorf said. "These are high-paying. (Some of) these are engineering positions, people making $75,000, $80,000 a year."

KFN was launched two years ago by 29 independent, rural telephone companies in the state, including Clearwater-based Southern Kansas Telephone. Those companies came together through KFN in order to build and use their own Internet and data network, instead of paying to use similar networks owned by much larger telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon.

Dorf said that by pooling their financial resources, those companies were able to build a network that, on their own, they couldn't otherwise afford to build.

More importantly, he said, those companies will be able to bring high-speed data and Internet service to rural communities more cheaply than if they were doing it using much-larger competitors' networks.

"If you're a telephone company in the far western area of the state, you're paying $70 a meg for Internet service," Dorf said. "That's wholesale.

"With KFN we can bring down that cost by half, which then makes it much more attractive and available to subscribers in those (rural) areas."

The companies chose to locate KFN in Wichita — at 121 N. Mead in Old Town — because of its size and the amenities that come with a larger city.

"If you're going to attract and retain professional people, you have to find a place where people are going to want to live," Dorf said. "If it's a very rural town, you're going to have a hard time finding those people and keeping them."

Dorf said much of the equipment — including a $500,000 telephone switch — is located in the metro area.

He said July will mark a year since the company started building the network. Dorf said he expects construction to be complete by the end of summer.

When it's complete, the member owners of KFN will have invested about $28 million in the company and its network, he said.