Wave Wireless, which provides wireless internet service in Labette County, will expand its network next year and bring fiber optic broadband internet service to 1,390 rural Labette County homes. The service will offer up to gigabit speeds.
Wave Wireless received $5.2 million from USDA’s ReConnect pilot program. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Matthew Lohr announced the award Monday afternoon at the Neosho Township Fire Department on U.S. 400 and Wallace Road. Galen Manners’ company will get a $2.6 million loan and a $2.6 million grant from the ReConnect program. The total award will be $5,271,852.
Manners will use the money to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises broadband network capable of transmission rates of 100 megabits per second or greater.
“The sky’s the limit. It’s expandable. It can grow with us,” Manners said.
The funded service area includes rural Labette County and homes and businesses in or near the current Wave Wireless footprint. This will be 1,390 households, 16 businesses and 23 farms, and 3,500 residents will be impacted. Communities will include Dennis, Labette City and Mound Valley. There was not enough funding to get farther than about 3 miles south of Altamont, Manners said.
Parsons and Altamont already have sufficient internet service through companies. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. Wave Wireless offers fiber in Altamont. Sparklight operates in Parsons along with other internet service providers, including Wave Wireless.
Construction will begin in March or April. Manners said the work will require his seven-employee business to hire more workers.
He will build the fiber network and bring fiber to the router in the home for customers in the project footprint. He does not know what cost plans he will offer, but the service could be megabit to gigabit in speed.
Manners said the gigabit option is fast. “Faster than the average person can use.”
Lohr said he has traveled across Kansas to make similar announcements Monday, traveling to rural Parsons from Wichita.
The need for broadband is important to agriculture and rural America because farm communities struggle without access to broadband.
“Rural America is really what this country is all about. It’s so important. And, of course, in these rural communities there’s just not a lot of people for these private businesses to be able to supply the broadband that’s needed.”
USDA’s ReConnect program makes that government and business partnership work to improve the rural way of life.
ReConnect had $600 million available for projects and received applications seeking $1.4 billion.
“I don’t work in Rural Development, but I’m part of the USDA family. And certainly my hope … is that we can put more money into this program. Because clearly the need’s been identified,” Lohr said.
Precision agriculture needs strong internet service to work efficiently in the field and in the farmstead.
“For our agricultural community, it’s so very, very important that we’re able to have these tools,” said Lohr, who farms in rural Virginia.
Lynne Hinrichsen, the Kansas director of USDA Rural Development, said USDA is not done. Rural America has many needs and this award focuses on one aspect.
“We’re hoping more will come to Kansas,” Hinrichsen said.
Manners, who earned an electrical engineering degree from Kansas State University, spoke about the need for high-speed internet in rural Labette County. He said he was in Ace Hardware this weekend and an Ace customer spoke to him about providing her internet service.
He remembered that at first all he could offer her was a limited 3 to 4 megabit service, which wasn’t enough for her to start her internet-based business in her specialty area of speech. Manners said eventually, and with much effort and work, he was able to improve her internet service to speeds fast enough that her business could have the opportunity to thrive. The Wave Wireless customer now teaches students from Japan and China and has a wait list.
Her husband ranches. Her business is not ag related, but it’s in rural America, Manners said.
“Her and her husband raise cattle and it allows her to be in rural Kansas but still get to do her specialty. I thought that was kind of a special deal and that’s what we’re all about is bringing broadband to rural America, but, more importantly, my backyard and our backyard where each of us live and work and choose to work,” Manners said.
“I truly feel there’s a need here in Labette County. And that’s kind of what our mission statement is,” he said.
“We’re just so excited about this project and what it’s going to do for rural Labette County. I think it’s going to be something that each and every one of us in this room here today can be proud of,” Manners said.
Rich Felts, Kansas Farm Bureau president, lives in Montgomery County and attended Monday’s event.
“This is a pretty rare thing,” Felts said after the announcement. That’s because of the $600 million made available for the country, a percentage of that will help Southeast Kansas.
“These are great. We just have a lot of areas across the country that need to have the same thing. This is one of many getting served,” Felts said.