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  • Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

KU researchers assert FCC map of high-speed broadband access in Kansas ‘highly inaccurate’


Donna Ginther, director of the Institute for Policy and Social Research at the University of Kansas, said the Federal Communications Commission’s map of broadband access in Kansas was inaccurate She estimated 1 million Kansans lack access to quality high-speed internet services. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — The Federal Communications Commission’s state-by-state map of broadband availability didn’t capture the potential of 1 million Kansans living in regions without adequate high-speed service, University of Kansas researchers said.


The findings were significant because the federal government plans to distribute $42.5 billion in broadband expansion funding to states based on the FCC’s map. In November, the FCC released maps showing broadband was available across Kansas and more than three-fourths of the state’s residents had access to reliable service. The deadline for states to challenge the map is Friday.


“Kansans learned the hard way during the COVID-19 pandemic that broadband was necessary for work and education,” said Donna Ginther, a professor of economics and director of the Institute for Policy and Social Research at the University of Kansas. “Our results show that the FCC map showing that 85% of Kansans have access to reliable broadband is highly inaccurate.”


KU researchers said the current FCC National Broadband Map of high-speed internet reflected a provider’s maximum advertised speed, which wasn’t the same as the level of service available to customers in a given location. Average download speeds were substantially higher for Kansans living within city limits compared to speeds available for Kansans outside city limits, the researchers said.


Researchers at KU concluded there was little reliable data on broadband access in Kansas and decided to create a survey with an embedded speed test. They interviewed constituents, residents and internet providers to develop a more complete picture of broadband issues in the state.


Internet service has become a more valuable quality-of-life tool among Kansans, but KU researchers indicated 44% of people responding to the survey reported dissatisfaction with their broadband service.


Respondents pointed to slow speeds, data caps, unreliable internet access and lack of options for service. Shortcomings in rural and frontier communities created challenges for people trying to perform their jobs, keep up with technological advancements and create future business opportunities.


Research collaborator Germaine Halegoua, a University of Michigan professor, said speed and access of internet connections at a particular address were important to measure, but so was how people experienced speed, quality of connections and cost of access on a daily basis.


“That’s one of the reasons our survey results are informative,” Halegoua said. “They pair reported internet connection with information about what it means to have that sort of connection — the challenges, constraints and uneven availability experienced across the state as well as the gratitude some rural communities felt toward the independent internet service providers who made the effort to serve their regions.”


An executive summary of the KU analysis can be viewed at the Institute for Policy and Social Research’s website. Information about opportunities for the public to submit feedback on the FCC map can be found on the Kansas Department of Commerce’s website.


U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from the Kansas City area, said accurate maps of broadband service in Kansas was essential. She said the state could be in line for as much as $100 million in broadband funding.


“If we want to improve access to high-speed internet in Kansas, we need an accurate understanding of where the gaps are,” Davids said. “That’s why I’m asking all Kansans to take a couple minutes out of their day to participate in this mapping project.”


U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, previously urged Kansans to submit information to the FCC regarding broadband coverage issues not revealed by the map. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly had agreed to signed a letter with 14 other governors to ask for a 60-day extension to time to respond to the map.


This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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