A Story About White Rock

The Write Stuff / Deb Hadachek

In 2000 I interviewed the late Henry and Mary Smies,who at that time were the only residents in the townsite ofWhite Rock, in extreme northwest Republic County.

This particular story has always stuck with me. White Rock was a boom town inRepublic County in the mid1800s, with some 250 residents and a business district most towns today would envy: a newspaper, general merchandise store, dress shop, two doctors, sawmill, blacksmith, tire shop, and niche craftsmen like a cheese maker, wheel maker, and grist mill.

In 1878 Republic County voters had the chance to approve $130,000 worth of bonds for the Kansas Pacific railway company to build a railroad line that would have extended from Clifton to the then-thriving towns of Seapo, Belleville and White Rock. County voters defeated the bond issue 1,126 to 850. In White Rock township, only two people voted in favor and 95 against.

As Henry told the story, White Rock city leaders believed their town was so prosperous that the railroad would build through their town whether or not they approved the bonds to help fund the connection.

They gambled and lost.

I thought about this story again a few weeks ago at a meeting of the NCKCN (North Central Kansas Community Network) board of directors. Jenny Russell of Courtland and I represent Republic County on that board. NCKCN is a public/private partnership with North Central Regional Planning Commission to provide high speed fixed wireless internet to communities in the region.

I don’t think I was invited to serve on the board because of my vast knowledge of technology. (If I was, someone was seriously misinformed).

It’s because I’m an out lier-literally. My husband and I are the customers on the far east edge of the current NCKCN service area who depend on the internet for both business and private uses. Our 100-plus-year-old farmhouse has a direct line of sight to the cable television tower north of Belleville more than 10 miles away, where the NCKCN equipment is installed. For 50bucks a month I get excellent service. (If you want to see if that’s possible for you, go towww.nckcn.com or call 785-738-2218).

It’s a bit of a miracle that we have internet in this region at all. Nearly 25 years ago I had conversations with JohnCyr, then director of Regional Planning, who was convinced rural areas needed access to this new-fangled “world wide web” communications network. Cunningham Cable also has been a leader to invest in broadband infrastructure for its customers, and Nex-Tech joined the market in western Republic County in the last decade.

The reality for any private company is that customer demand for the service has to justify the expense to invest in upgrades to the technology.

At the NCKCN meeting, Brent Cunningham gave a synopsis of KsFiberNet, a network of 29 independent telephone companies that work together to create a communication network that crisscrosses the state. He flashed a map up on the screen (see above), and I instantly thought “That looks like a railroad map of the1800s.”

The “connected” communities stand a better chance of surviving into the future than those that aren’t connected. The blank space over easternRepublic County bothers me.

Just last year, the Kansas Legislature established a task force to study rural broadband. It seems a little late that the State is now concerned about this issue for rural areas, but perhaps better late than never.

This is not an issue about whether you have internet service to look at photos of your grandchildren on Facebook.

This is an issue about whether current and future industries and independent businesses have the speed they need to work and compete in a global marketplace, or whether they bypass us for places willing to invest in that infrastructure.