Kansas profile: Committed to strong Internet on the plains
Let’s meet some freedom fighters. These won’t be found in some jungle fighting a dictator. These fighters are working to achieve freedom from bad Internet service, and they are based in rural Kansas.
Daniel Friesen is founder and chief innovation officer at IdeaTek in Buhler. He describes his company’s staff as freedom fighters for good Internet service, particularly in rural communities.
Daniel went to high school in Buhler. He was a tech-savvy kid. “When our teachers at the school got computers, they would ask me to set them up,” Daniel said.
In 1999, he and four high school friends started a computer repair business in Buhler with $250 in the basement of his parent’s house. The business was named IdeaTek.
Daniel continued the business in college while his four friends pursued other interests. He studied computer systems support at Hutchinson Community College and management information systems at Wichita State before pursuing the business full time in Buhler, where he and his wife and family live today.
Daniel served three terms as mayor of Buhler and is currently a Reno County Commissioner. He was a member of the Kansas Broadband Expansion Taskforce and the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Commission Competitive Infrastructure Working Group. Locally, he is a member of community foundation boards and trustee of the Buhler MB Church.
Back in 2005, Daniel transitioned IdeaTek from computers to the telecommunications business. IdeaTek pioneered fiber-to-the-home internet service in Buhler in 2007, followed by servicing nearby rural communities such as Bentley, population 530, and Yoder, population 194 people. Now, that’s rural.
The business continued to grow and change. Daniel transitioned from CEO to chief innovation officer.
“Today we are highly focused on high quality fiber optics,” Daniel said. “We are an internet service provider focused on underserved areas of the state of Kansas.”
“Everyone deserves high quality, robust broadband service. Geography shouldn’t be a limiting factor.”
The pandemic demonstrated the importance of broadband service for quality education, health care and more.
“We’re big proponents of competition,” Daniel said. “If you let the free market work, it will solve problems. Competition always benefits the consumer.”
Today, IdeaTek has grown to more than 120 employees. IdeaTek’s service area now reaches from Strong City to Liberal.
In 2020, federal CARES Act funding was allocated for broadband telecommunications in rural, underserved areas. IdeaTek took on several projects.
“That was a monumental lift,” Daniel said. In three months, IdeaTek reached out to serve 17 counties. Nearly 20 communities received fiber for the first time. The company deployed 20 cable plows and 39 bore machines to build 70 towers and 358 route miles.
In the end, the project involved 115,000 hours and 25,805 fiber miles with potential to serve 10,335 homes and businesses. The total investment was $18 million. “It was the most rewarding and challenging project we’ve done,” Daniel said.
The goal remains to reach underserved areas of Kansas. According to IdeaTek, Kansas ranks 28th in the nation for broadband connectivity - 173,000 Kansans do not have wired broadband services available in their home, and 26 percent of rural Americans lack access to broadband compared to only one percent of urban customers.
“We call ourselves Internet freedom fighters,” Daniel said. “We want to free people from poor Internet service.” The company website even describes a freedom fighter’s characteristics: passionate, tenacious, inventive, hyper-adaptable and trustworthy.
IdeaTek was named one of Inc. 5000’s fastest growing private companies. The company website says: “We’re small-town techies and Kansans at heart, passionate about helping rural communities thrive. If we can help make that happen by connecting community members and organizations with our fast, reliable internet, we are all about it.”
For more information, go to www.IdeaTek.com.
It’s time to say goodbye to these freedom fighters. They’re not fighting guerilla warfare in some jungle somewhere; they are fighting for better broadband service in rural Kansas.
We salute Daniel Friesen and all the people at IdeaTek in Buhler for making a difference with rural broadband advocacy and investment. I hope they keep up the good fight.
— Ron Wilson is director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University. The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Media Services unit.