In Kansas, we have a problem. Nearly 100,000 of us do not have access to the internet. Although this is only 3.5 % of the state’s population, every Kansan without internet access is missing a vital resource and opportunity to compete in an increasingly online world.
This problem is not going away. Private telecommunications companies see diminishing returns on building $25,000-$45,000 fiber-optic infrastructure for a rural community of a hundred or a thousand people. There is no incentive for improvement.
Even worse, we don’t know where to start in solving this problem for rural Kansans. Many private service providers do not share information about where their service begins and ends, making it difficult to know where we need to facilitate expansion. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who lives in Manhattan, helped craft the Broadband DATA Act of 2019 which expanded the mapping of rural broadband deficits, but this data is far from perfect.
The last four years, former Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai prioritized rural broadband expansion through effective execution of the Broadband Data Improvement Act. Pai, who is from Parsons, Kansas, has overseen the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) for the last four years and established the 5G fund to bring the latest technology to rural America.
Today, we have a new administration and a new FCC Chairwoman. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and the Biden Administration have proposed $100 billion in their new infrastructure plan for universal broadband.
The Biden Administration has proposed paying for this plan with a 7% increase to the corporate tax rate — to 28%. That is a little over 4% higher than the global average and starkly contrasts the world-wide trend of decreasing corporate tax rates since 1980.
For U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Moran the question is this: will this tax hike motivate Kansas companies to leave our state and, if so, is it worth it to fund a government program intended to provide broadband to rural Kansans?
Both Kansas Senators have come out against Biden’s infrastructure package, which contains the $100 billion for universal broadband, because of its fiscal irresponsibility. And it is irresponsible.
The bill would pour $400 billion more into Medicaid, and $213 billion to “retrofit” public housing. Is Medicaid infrastructure? And since when, in America, is the government a real estate developer?
Infrastructure spending, in my opinion is a great idea. The American Society of Civil Engineers rated U.S. infrastructure at a C- overall in 2021. China is rolling out maglev bullet trains that could get you from Manhattan to Chicago in an hour and a half while U.S. federal infrastructure investment relative to GDP has fallen to 40-year lows. We need infrastructure and we need it now.
The issue is that Uncle Joe already spent $2 trillion on an unnecessary stimulus and plans to spend $10 trillion in FY 2021 alone if all of his legislation passes. $2 trillion for the initial stimulus, $2 trillion for the infrastructure package, $2 trillion for the families plan, and the government’s $4 trillion annual budget = $10 trillion.
Yet the prospect of universal broadband for our 100,000 Kansans is tantalizing. Building rural broadband doesn’t have to come at the cost of corporate flight and increased taxes. Universal Kansas broadband can be achieved with less dramatic means than this massive “infrastructure” bill.
For example, Rosenworcel can use the Universal Service Funds available in the RDOF to make sure we keep our maps updated. The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act could be passed to study and support workforce shortages in broadband development. And 5G deployment is possible through the 5G fund established by Pai.
The federal government is not the only solution available to our 100,000, however. The Kansas Legislature passed funding last year dedicating $85 million for broadband expansion over the next 10 years. The private sector holds exciting solutions for internet with Spacex’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which plan to provide satellite-enabled broadband.
But, hold on, why is broadband expansion important for a bunch of small farming communities in western Kansas that probably don’t use the internet very often, if at all?
Universal broadband in Kansas will incentivize employees of Silicon Valley-based technology companies, Wall Street-based finance companies, and companies across the country to live and work in communities across Kansas: rejuvenating our economy with their tax dollars and enriching our towns with their diversity. With the recent transition to remote work, it is the perfect time to act.
And make no mistake, if Kansas is completely covered with 5G, this is possible. In the words of the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” Why will he or they (employees of companies across the country) come to Kansas? Maybe for the baseball, but, more likely, for the money. Kansas has a top individual income tax rate of 5.7 % as opposed to California’s 13.3 % and New York’s 8.82 %. And the cost of living in Kansas is a fraction of that in coastal states.
The 2020 census and congressional reapportionment supports this theory. Five of the seven new congressional seats will be added to states that voted for Trump while five of the seven states losing seats will be states that voted for Biden. Kansas can be a great destination for people looking to relocate and escape the city, but broadband is a must for those who want to continue working remotely for their company.
Most importantly, increased access to the internet will provide opportunities for current rural Kansans. With the internet, Kansans everywhere—not just folks on the Interstate 70 and Interstate 35 corridor—will be able to apply to jobs at companies across the country. You can bring in a New York City paycheck, pay Kansas taxes and living costs, and continue your rural way of life. Broadband saturation will open the global job market to Kansans.
Rosenworcel, the Biden Administration, and our two Kansas senators must develop broadband solutions for Kansas. These solutions can’t result in corporate tax increases and $400 billion in new health care spending. It shouldn’t be that hard to strike a balance for both parties. For Democrats who claim to be the champion of the common, downtrodden man, rural America contains many of the poorest citizens in our country and they need your help! For Republicans who represent rural America, it is time to modernize broadband infrastructure and welcome, nay, recruit technology workers to our communities.
Knocking our 100,000 disconnected Kansans down to 0 does not need to come at the cost of making our country non-competitive on the global corporate tax stage. It doesn’t need to come out of our grandchildren’s pockets. Universal broadband must be a priority for Kansas politicians by effectively executing current programs and supporting private sector innovation. If we build it, they will come.
Brett Seaton grew up in Manhattan and worked the past year in the Congressional offices of Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran. He will attend the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in the fall.