Access to the internet has become a fundamental asset that all Kansas City area households require in achieving economic prosperity. A recent study by KC Rising highlighted the increased importance for all households to have a reliable, affordable connection and computer devices for access to education, employment and health. The COVID-19 pandemic made this need more urgent, with over 100,000 area households currently without broadband subscriptions and computer devices to enable these meaningful uses. While many neighborhoods and communities show high numbers of households with internet subscriptions and devices, many urban core neighborhoods, small outlying communities, and rural areas lack such access.
The KC Rising PLACE Committee guided the preparation of the study, which found the need for high-speed broadband access, quality computer devices and training to be critical to inclusive prosperity for residents throughout the nine-county Kansas City region. Our region lags behind many peer metro areas around the nation; over one-fourth of the Kansas City region’s households lack broadband subscriptions. The study outlined three steps:
• Create a formal means for regional collaboration in addressing this critical need.
• Define a value framework to demonstrate the necessity of enabling access to high-quality internet services for all households.
• Define metrics to measure progress.
With this analysis and its findings, KC Rising, the Mid-America Regional Council and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City are co-convening with community leaders, organizations, institutions and residents to outline a coordinated framework. The framework is for investing federal funds to improve the region’s broadband infrastructure and ensure all households can secure digital connections and services. Over the next four to six months, an assessment of the region’s current broadband infrastructure will identify underserved and underserved neighborhoods and communities.
Together, these efforts will help increase understanding of the barriers many households face in securing digital access, computer devices and training. They will also outline steps that various institutions and organizations could take to increase access for the region’s households to reliable, quality, affordable digital services.
Missouri and Kansas are doing the work to support the short-term decisions on using federal funds and establishing a solid foundation for continued work to allow all households digital access for economic prosperity.
-Marlene Nagel, Director of Community Development at Mid-America Regional Council