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State hoping rest-area sponsors will supply Internet, cover costs

3/7/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

With an eye on travel and tourism and the state's transportation system, the Kansas Department of Transportation is looking to reel in sponsors willing to pay for Internet access at the state's 36 rest areas.

It's a growing trend among states, hungry for money to cover declining budgets. In Kansas, the sponsorship could help cover some of the state's costs to maintain the rest areas.

Currently, the plan is to use sponsorship money to cover the cost of Internet access, but surfing beyond KDOT's KanDrive system -- offering travel information -- and state travel and tourism sites would cost a traveler.

In exchange, a corporate sponsor would get the chance to brand rest areas, prime advertising opportunities for thousands of motorists driving down Interstate 70 and other major highways. Kansas could end up with a single sponsor or several.

Currently, there are four rest areas where wireless Internet is available: Ruleton on I-70, Paxico west of Topeka, in Greenwood County on U.S. Highway 400 and at Wellington on Interstate 35.

Kansas has 36 rest areas, said Mike Floberg, the KDOT employee in charge of the sponsorship program.

KDOT, he said, has selected two firms to seek out the sponsors.

Floberg said insurance giant Geico was looking at the option of sponsoring the state's rest areas, but the deal couldn't be completed.

Essentially, the sponsor pays for the cost of the wireless Internet connection in exchange for using its branding on the highway and at the rest area.

"We want to keep it at no cost to the state," Floberg said.

If the arrangement exceeds the cost of the equipment to make wi-fi available, the extra money will go into a fund to help defray the cost of the rest areas.

Floberg said he isn't sure what it might ultimately cost to sponsor a rest area.

It won't be the wild west of Internet access, however.

Instead, access will be limited to travel in Kansas, either through KDOT's roadmap system, or in partnership with the state's travel and tourism division.

"Anything beyond that," Floberg said, "there will be a fee."

He's hoping sponsors can be found by July 1.