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Fighting for what's right in rural KS

A bill under consideration by the Kansas Senate generated quite a bit of controversy this past week. The bill, which would have prevented Kansas cities from providing broadband services to their residents, at least temporarily has been pulled from consideration. It had been proposed by the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association with the explanation government should not be in competition with private business.

As a strong proponent of free market enterprise, I am sympathetic to that argument. But the controversy reminds me of another one involving phone service to rural Kansas. It occurred in the late 1980s or early 1990s, when I was serving as Lane County commissioner. At that time, Dighton and Hill City were served by the same telephone service provider, and that service absolutely was terrible. The discontent reached such a crescendo the phone company finally convened a meeting in Hill City to take input from concerned citizens. I testified we had heard and read about the information superhighway, but we felt as if we were living on an information cow path.

Incredibly, the representative of the phone company responded her company had been operating on the premise we country folk expected out of our phone company was a reliable dial tone.

The situation thankfully was resolved when the phone company gave up their territories in rural Kansas and allowed them to be served by local cooperative telephone companies. The affected residents then experienced a rapid upgrade in phone service and a continued commitment to expanded service. My thanks to the local companies such as S&T Telephone, Rural Telephone Service Co. and Golden Belt Telephone for making that a reality.

That experience has led me to conclude at least in rural Kansas, strictly private-free enterprise sometimes is inadequate to provide essential services in a cost-effective manner. Competition frequently is so thin in those markets that allowing local governments or cooperative entities the authority to provide those services is helpful.

Just the threat of potential competition from the city makes the provider more responsive, leading to lower prices and better service. Obviously, I am not alone in this view. Legislators were flooded with so many communications in opposition to the bill it now has been pulled back, although it might reappear later in the session.

Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, represents the 118th District.

don.hineman@

house.ks.gov