Great Plains Communications is proud to have had to chance to talk with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the State of Nebraska, Ed Toner and talk about how he is working to leverage technology in innovative ways to benefit the people of Nebraska. He is particularly passionate about bringing higher Internet speeds to the state’s small towns.

Q: Why is it so important to extend broadband to Nebraska’s rural communities?

A: I really feel for small towns. Nebraska is essentially a rural state, with just a couple of high-population cities. For small towns in rural Nebraska, high-speed Internet is critical to their growth and prosperity. Broadband positively impacts employment and economic growth. It also makes a huge difference in the quality of life and viability of a community.

While some type of broadband is now available to nearly all Nebraskans, this access alone isn’t sufficient. More than 20 percent of our state’s residents are only able to access download speeds of 25 Mbps or less. This is not fast enough for many applications such as video streaming. There remains a big gap between our small rural communities and big cities. About 90 percent of people in Lincoln and Omaha can get broadband above 25 Mbps.

Another important reason why rural communities need higher Internet speeds is the demand for telehealth programs. In more rural areas of Nebraska, residents can’t just drive to see a certain specialist since there isn’t one in their area. They need access to teleconferences with doctors, but often can’t take advantage of this technology due to insufficient Internet speeds.

Q: How does your background growing up in a rural Texas community impact your advocacy for broadband in Nebraska? 

A: I grew up in Belton, Texas. It was a small town when I lived there, but has since grown. When I was in high school, there weren’t any physics or calculus classes offered, which put me at a huge disadvantage when I started college. But today, with sufficient broadband, students in rural areas can benefit greatly from access to online courses that aren’t available to them locally. I wish I’d had the option of online education in my youth.

Partly due to my experience, I’m passionate about the fact that the Internet is the great equalizer. It brings many valuable opportunities to small rural communities. I know people who live in small towns and are telecommuters for large companies located elsewhere. This arrangement allows them to still live and work in a small town and contribute economically to that community.

Q: How does Nebraska stack up to other areas of the country in terms of the advancement of broadband?

A: Nebraska has done an outstanding job of reaching out to its small communities with affordable broadband. Nebraska also has the lowest commodity Internet rates in the country. Much credit for these accomplishments goes to Network Nebraska, which is a collaborative statewide networking effort under the auspices of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission. Through consolidation, Network Nebraska is able to provide a scalable, reliable and affordable infrastructure capable of carrying a spectrum of services and applications. Its members include 99.6 percent of K-12 public school districts and 100 percent of the University of Nebraska and other state, community and tribal colleges.

Q: How do you view the contributions made by Great Plains Communications toward expanding Nebraska’s broadband?

A: I’m really pleased that Great Plains Communications is targeting the areas I hold dear — rural communities. Great Plains Communications bids on areas that are underserved with broadband and provides them with reasonable rates. While Lincoln and Omaha have plenty of Internet competition, that’s not always the case elsewhere in the state. Great Plains Communications is willing to serve the areas that need broadband the most, reaching out more than other companies.

Q: What do you appreciate most about the Great Plains Communications services used by the State of Nebraska?

A: I appreciate their excellent quality of service. Great Plains Communications provides a variety of services to the State of Nebraska including phone, Internet and Managed Ethernet for different offices around the State as well as large, statewide networks that connect locations back to the State’s Data Centers in Scottsbluff, Grand Island and Omaha. When we do have issues, the partnership between my team and the Great Plains Communications team is good. We always get fast responses from Great Plains Communications and they’re easy to work with. They understand our concerns and address them promptly.

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