TOPEKA, Kan. - Last week, on March 14th, at the request of the Speaker of the House Mike O'Neal (R-Hutchinson), the chair of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee, Marc Rhodes (R-Newton), introduced HB 2390 that would abolish Kan-Ed and transfer all remaining assets to the state's general fund effective July 1 of this year. Internet access would continued to be administered by the Kansas Universal Service Fund, that is overseen by the Kansas Corporation Commission, but other services provide by Kan-Ed would expire.
Kan-Ed was created by the Kansas Legislature in 2001 and administered through the Kansas Board of Regents. The purpose of the program is to expand the collaboration capabilities of Kan-Ed's member institutions: K-12 schools, higher education, libraries and hospitals through the use of technology.
As such, it provides services including hospital ER databases, provides libraries, schools and hospitals with affordable and high-speed Internet connectivity, the ELMeR videoconferencing network, research databases (including all K-12 databases and Heritage Quest), Kan-Ed Live Tutor (Homework Kansas), and more.
Just to demonstrate how much these systems are used, between September 1 and December 31, 2010, 7,990 individual point-to-point sessions were conducted with the ELMeR videoconferencing network for a total of 9,193 hours. In addition, the system was used for 7,560 individual multi-point (multiple people/institutions connecting at one time) sessions for a total of 8,972 hours. This system allows patiences in hospitals in across the state to connect directly with medical specialists at the KU Medical School. It also allows small rural hospitals to connect with regional medical centers for consultations that save people's lives.
Thus far the only print newspaper to report on the bill has been Katie Stockstill-Sawyer at the McPherson Sentinel. Stockstill-Sawyer talks to local libraries about the impact of the bill.
Kan-Ed is currently run as a non-profit program. The Kansas Board of Regents has requested a budget of $10.14 million for fiscal year 2012. This sum has remained the same since 2003 and not one dime of it comes from income, sales, or property taxes. Instead, the funds are generated through an assessment applied on phone lines administered by the Kansas Universal Service Fund (KUSF). This means that residents, businesses and other agencies provide the money for the program annually. By dissolving Kan-Ed, the per-line assessment would be reduced and little if no money would move into the state general fund.
Thus HB 2390 does away with the non-profit nature of the program and would turn it into a for-profit venture to enrich the telecom industry in Kansas and cost you and me more money for the basic services Kan-Ed provides. Cox Communications, one of 20 private telecom providers partnered with Kan-Ed, announced on March 17th that it supports the legislation. No big surprise there!
"The way the Kan-Ed repeal Act is written, it still collects the KUSF tax from consumers, gives the proceeds of the tax directly to the telecommunications providers, and exempts the whole process from the Kansas Open Records Act," said Carol Barta of Manhattan. "This does nothing to reduce the taxpayers burden, does nothing to close the deficit, and in the end will require the taxpayers to pay more locally to get less service than they have now. "
Barta took action against Cox Cable by terminating her cable and Internet service on Friday and went out and bought a digital antenna on Saturday.
"Ending my service from Cox was my only way of making clear to them that their support of this bill was against my best interest. I couldn't vote against the bill, so I voted with my dollars against the company."
The Kansas Library Association (KLA) is encouraging Kansans to contact their Kansas state representative to express their strong support for Kan-Ed and urge him/her to oppose House Bill 2390. It's uncertain when the bill might come to a vote, but to be on the safe side, KLA is encouraging that contacts be made this week.
Readers can find a list of Kansas representatives and their contact information at http://kslegislature.org/li/chamber/house/roster/. Most legislators welcome email messages from constituents, so be sure to include your contact information - postal address, e-mail and telephone - and indicate that you are a constituent when sending an e-mail. Individuals can also call their representative. Phone numbers can be found on the same web page.
KLA is encouraging that in communication with legislators, constituents emphasize the negative impact on library users in particular and have provided the following points to consider:
- The bill would be extremely destructive to libraries, schools, and hospitals. In many communities, primarily rural, there is no viable alternative for high-speed Internet access.
- Even in communities where there are alternatives, the cost would be prohibitive for many libraries.
- The deadline has passed for libraries to apply for e-rate discounts for 2011-2012, for help in paying for Internet access.
- The state increasingly relies on public libraries to provide access to such e-government services as unemployment benefits and filing taxes. With this bill, library users without their own Internet access would find their access to these e-government service in jeopardy.
- There would be absolutely no savings in the state general fund, since Kan-Ed is funded from the Kansas Universal Service Fund and e-rate discounts from the federal universal service fund. Thus, abolishing Kan-Ed will not help balance the state budget
- ELMeR saves staff time and travel, and also provides videoconferencing services to the communities which participate in the network. ELMeR is entirely dependent upon Kan-Ed.
- You could include some information about how your users make use of the K-12 databases or Kan-Ed Live Tutor (Homework Kansas).
- It is the ability of Kan-ed to purchase a statewide network, which was awarded to AT&T in a competitive bidding process, that has made Kan-Ed cost effective.
- People from western Kansas should also point out that while this bill is vitally important to western Kansas, there are no representatives on the committee to which the bill has been referred (Appropriations) which are farther west than Lindsborg.