May 20th, Governor Laura Kelly announced the second-year awards for the Kansas Department of Commerce Broadband Acceleration grants. Cunningham Telephone & Cable will be one of ten companies to receive funding to help bring more broadband to Kansas. The Cunningham Telephone & Cable award is for a rural Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) build outside of Concordia.
“We are super excited to be one of the awardees,” says Brent Cunningham, Vice President and General Manager of Cunningham Telephone and Cable. “We had sent in four applications for rural broadband; one for Jewell, Mitchell, Republic and Cloud counties. Each was about a million-dollar total project and would have extended broadband into rural areas of the respective counties. Our Cloud County application made it to the final round and then we found out recently it will be awarded.”
The Kansas Department of Commerce (KDoC) Broadband Acceleration Grant is a 50/50 matching grant. Fifty percent funding for a proposed broadband build in an eligible area will be funding by the KDoC and the other fifty percent by the broadband company. Eligible areas are based on previous mapping of broadband availability and the proposed area’s needs.
“Each county had a little bit different area that was eligible to apply for a KDoC broadband grant. For instance, in Mitchell County, it was a large area west of highway 14. In Cloud County, the eligible area was about a 2-mile circle surrounding Concordia. We put together project proposals based on the eligible areas of this round of grants. We applied where we could get more broadband in the rural areas of the counties to fill in gaps,” says Cunningham.
“During the final round interviews with the Department of Commerce committee, one of the keys to our Cloud application making it so far was that we already had an existing fiber broadband project in Concordia. This grant will allow us to extend that existing fiber project outside the city limits into the less populated rural area,” continues Cunningham. “We’ll be able to do this project more efficiently than anyone else since we’ve already got a lot of the core pieces in place with our current Concordia Fiber-to-the-Home build. We can in-turn leverage that existing infrastructure and extend service outside of town.”
“Another key piece is our partnership with North Central Kansas Community Network aka NCKCN Wireless. By partnering with NCKCN Wireless to put up antennas at the edges of our fiber network, they can push broadband deeper into harder-to-reach rural areas. It’s a one-two punch that helps get more broadband to more people,” says Cunningham.
“These grants help make rural broadband projects feasible. In rural areas, where customer locations could be miles apart, it takes outside help to make a business case to serve them. That’s why they are underserved today,” states Cunningham. “Underground fiber construction can cost upwards of $30,000 per mile. While a mile of fiber inside of Concordia could pass 150 homes or businesses, in the rural areas that might only be 5 or less homes. We can make a business case in town for our FTTH builds and are doing that completely out of our own pocket. Outside of town, even if every home available took service and for 20 years straight, it still wouldn’t break even. And there’s still ongoing operating costs to run the network too. Having broadband grants or other outside funding to kick-start broadband construction in rural areas is the only way it’s feasible.”
“We are getting started immediately and will have until October 31st, 2023, to have construction finished. It’s going to be a busy year and a half. We already have a lot of existing construction projects going. Hopefully supply chains loosen up some more so that we can get all the equipment we need on-time…or in-time,” smiles Cunningham.
“Customer pricing will be the same as our in-town Concordia plans and we’ll be able to offer the same level of services. Residential internet will range from $40 to $99. $99 will get you a Gig of internet speed in both the up and download. Business Class packages range from $100 for 250x250Mbps up to $300 for 1GbpsX1Gbps for our regular packages. If business customers have greater needs than 1Gbps, we can go higher, but those I mentioned are what we’ve seen most businesses order,” says Cunningham. “We’ll be able to offer our streaming TV service and phone services over the new fiber also.”
“It’ll be a push for sure given the short 18-month timeline for a project this size. Hopefully by mid-summer next year we’ll be turning up the first customers on the new builds outside of town,” says Cunningham. “We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now but didn’t want to pass up on the chance to do more for the area through the Dept of Commerce grant program. Our future plans are to continue applying for grants to keep extending the fiber availability farther and farther out into the county’s rural areas until the entire county has great broadband access.”