In Kansas, many still lack broadband access
As federal officials debate pouring billions of dollars into broadband access, data suggests many of Kansas' schoolchildren and adults who preferred to work from home spent the pandemic with sub-par access to high-speed internet, particularly in the state's least-wealthy counties.
Advocates say that "digital divide" across the United States is due largely to two factors: a lack of internet infrastructure in the country's rural reaches and the relatively high cost of broadband that has made the service unaffordable for many in urban centers.
In about half of Kansas' 105 counties — 53 of 104 — measured by a Federal Communications Commission study, broadband access is available to at least 85% of residents. Yet in about half of the state measured by Microsoft — 53 of 105 counties — no more than 17% of households actually have high-speed access, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of Senate moderates have reached a deal on a far-reaching infrastructure plan that would direct $65 billion to increase broadband connectivity from coast to coast. Despite the agreement, it's unclear whether it would address the solutions some lawmakers want to see such as continued broadband subsidies for low-income families, greater competition among wireless providers and continued buildout of high-speed networks in poorer, rural areas.
The Biden administration estimates 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure to provide minimally acceptable speeds.
In Kansas, 14.3% of residents don't have adequate broadband infrastructure and 51% live in areas that have only one internet provider, according to the White House.
Locally, on the FCC and Microsoft measures:
- In Ford County, 80% of households could get broadband but 30% actually had it.
- In Gray County, 7% of households could get broadband but 18% actually had it.
- In Hodgeman County, 41% of households could get broadband but 3% actually had it.
- In Clark County, 1% of households could get broadband but 12% actually had it.
- In Meade County, an unknown number of households could get broadband but 8% actually had it.
- In Edwards County, 70% of households could get broadband but 8% actually had it.
The proportions of Kansas households that have high-speed access varies widely: In Hodgeman County, it's just 3%; in Chase County, it's 4%; and in Chautauqua County, it's 4%. Leading the state are Johnson County with 66%, Wyandotte County with 52% and Coffey County with 49%.
A USA TODAY analysis of data nationwide found a wide gap between rich and poor counties, as measured by median household income. The chasm varies depending on state and county.
Among Kansas' wealthiest counties: 66% of Johnson County has access, 6% of Scott County has access and 43% of Leavenworth County has access. Among the least-wealthy counties, access rates are 9% in Woodson County, 10% in Elk County and 4% in Chautauqua County.
Among the state's most populated counties: Some 66% of Johnson County households have broadband access, as well as 47% of Sedgwick County households and 41% of Shawnee County households, the Microsoft data shows.
The complete USA TODAY story on national broadband is available on usatoday.com.
Erin Mansfield and Matt Wynn contributed to this report. The USA TODAY Network is publishing localized versions of this story on its news sites across the country, generated with data from Microsoft, the Federal Communications Commission and the White House.