KwiKom makes a pitch for ARPA funds to expand broadband

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

MOUND CITY – Representatives from Iola-based KwiKom Communications gave an informal presentation to the Linn County Commission on Monday, Oct. 25, about providing broadband service to the west side of Linn County.

Operations Manager Eric Vogel and Business Development Director John Terry told the commissioners that they had been working on a proposal for delivering fiber-optic service to the cities of Parker, Blue Mound, and the unincorporated community of Centerville.

Vogel said that they finally had gathered enough information to come to the commissioners to talk about it.

He said that the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) had brought broadband in rural areas to the forefront. He said they were talking to a couple dozen counties and some cities about using ARPA funding that could be used for broadband expansion.

Vogel said that they were there to let the county know their plans and that no firm commitments were needed at this time.

The company was started in 2010 with a merger of two smaller companies, and the headquarters is in Iola, he said. Since 2010 the company has grown from 300 to 400 customers to today serving 50 counties in Kansas, including the area around Dodge City and Topeka.

KwiKom started out as wireless company using existing water towers and grain elevators and then decided that they needed to go into fiber optic, he said. In 2017 they started running fiber optic to homes.

The company has run fiber optic to Osawatomie, Greeley, Garnett, Iola, and Gas, said Vogel. He provided the commissioners with paperwork from a state grant for broadband that allowed KwiKom to run cable to Thayer, Altoona, and Fredonia.

KwiKom wants to run fiber optic to all communities, and one of advantages the company has is that it does all of its construction and engineering in-house.

Vogel said that in Phase One, they would be looking at bringing fiber to every home and business in Parker, Centerville, and Blue Mound. He said that their engineers have drawn up the cost for the project. For Parker, it would be approximately $263,700; Centerville $221, 800; and Blue Mound, $324,800, for a total of about $810,400.

Vogel said that between KwiKom and other funding they would have about $500,000 and would be looking at applying for about $300,000 from the Linn County ARPA funds.

Commissioner Jim Johnson asked if they would be going off this line farther out into the country. The Phase One proposal is not “fiber to the farm” and the company would not be making any connections along those routes, said Vogel.

Vogel said that they would be reaching some residences right outside of the cities but would not be connecting to residences along the line.

One of the unique things, KwiKom brings to the county is that it currently serves much of Linn County with wireless, Vogel said. One in 10 households in Linn County have KwiKom service. We would continue to expand that wireless growth to the county outside of those communities.

He said the company believes the federal government is going to drastically increase funding for getting fiber out to these far flung communities, and that would allow Kwikom to “jump off” of the line. He said the fiber optic line would be laid with a hand hole every mile so they could split off and go down the county roads at a later date.

Our goal today is that we continue to expand the high-speed wireless out to the farms, said Vogel. He said the company offers Internet, phone and – by the end of the year – it will offer TV service.

Johnson asked if they had the same monthly charge for wireless and fiber optic.

The charge is the same but the company cannot offer as fast a service on wireless, said Vogel. The company’s wireless customers can get speeds as high as 40 megabits per second (mbps) – considered by the industry to be sufficient for most Internet needs included streaming.

Commission Chair Rick James asked if everything was approved how long would this take to complete.

Vogel said approximately eight to 12 months. The company would come off of its current connection in Greeley to come over to Parker.

James asked how long people would have to wait for service.

Vogel said that service would be local. The company never puts any of our customers into contracts, and the only way it can keep a customer is with good service. He added that there was no charge for router or equipment, no contracts, and no hidden equipment fees.

KwiKom is probably the largest wireless provider in Kansas, Vogel said, particularly in the eastern portion of the state.

In a separate interview, Vogel confirmed that the Phase One fiber optic cable between communities would be the backbone of service and not fiber to the farm.

When asked what Phase Two would be, Vogel said that would be building more towers for wireless, and then Phase Three might be fiber to the farm.

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