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May 15, 2012
TOPEKA House and Senate negotiators on Monday agreed to a bill that would begin phasing out the Kan-ed network, and transition current users to commercial internet providers by June 30, 2013.
Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said Senate Substitute for HB 2390 was aimed at expediting the transition but with minimal disruption to Kan-ed subscribers.
"We know we can provide internet service less expensively," Apple said. "If there's an ability to transition to a more cost-effective provider and save the taxpayers money, that's what we're going to do as fast as we can, but not disrupt things for the users of those services."
The bill also directs the Kansas Board of Regents — which oversees Kan-ed — to come up with a plan to facilitate telemedicine and distance learning beyond Kan-ed, and lay out options for how such program activities might be funded in fiscal 2014.
Apple said that there is still interest in the Legislature in supporting those activities, just not providing the expensive T1 connection.
"We have a world-class hospital in KU Med Center, on the last leg of getting NCI designation. Being able to take those services throughout the state, that's important to Kansas," Apple said.
Kan-ed was launched by the state in 2004 to provide hospitals, schools and libraries access to broadband internet, video conferencing and database services. It is funded by a tax added to Kansans' telephone bills.
Last year, House members approved eliminating the program, saying it had outlived its original purpose.
An audit released in January found the state could save about $2 million annually by switching half of the institutions that use the Kan-ed network over to commercial internet providers.
Auditors found that about half of the 554 connections to Kan-ed were used only for internet access and another 6 percent weren't used at all.
Kan-ed network connections each cost $690 a month. Auditors found that commercial alternatives were readily available throughout the state — including rural areas — and were less costly.
Under the bill, the Kansas Department of Commerce — instead of the Board of Regents, as originally proposed — would survey Kan-ed subscribers to determine their internet needs.
Based on the needs assessment, the Board of Regents would develop a plan to transition subscribers to a commercial alternative by June 30, 2013, a new deadline agreed upon today.
The bill would authorize payments of up to $350 a month to institutions that switch to commercial providers before the deadline.
Kan-ed funding for fiscal 2013 is wrapped up in current budget negotiations. The House deleted $4.5 million for Kan-Ed, the Senate did not.
The Board of Regents plan would be due to the Legislature by January 15, 2013.
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