Broadband study aims to fix the lack of internet-access data in Kansas. Here's how to make your voice heard.

India Yarborough
Topeka Capital-Journal
Cox Communication field technicians Lance Doyal, front, and Adam Colgrove test a fiber line that connects internet to rural houses in northern Shawnee County on Friday afternoon. Cox was able to expand its coverage to this area through federal CARES money and is working with local officials to continue expansion of broadband access.

A study being conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas aims to rectify what the project's lead researcher describes as a "terrible" lack of data about broadband access in the sunflower state.

"The (Federal Communications Commission) data on broadband is terrible. There's no other word to describe it," said KU economics professor Donna Ginther. "It's inaccurate. It's incomplete. So one of our first steps was to try to get a handle on actual access and speed and affordability."

Ginther, who serves as lead on the project and director of KU's Institute for Policy & Social Research, said getting to the bottom of those questions about internet access is why researchers are conducting the study now.

The main piece of the study is a statewide survey that includes an internet speed test. The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete and should help IPSR researchers better understand where broadband in Kansas falls short.

They are asking Kansans to complete the survey at a time when issues of equitable broadband access are at the forefront of public discussion due to the widespread remote work and schooling that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We want every Kansan in every corner of the state to respond to this survey so we can get a sense of who has access to what and at what speed," Ginther said.

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Connecting to the internet in rural parts of Shawnee and Jefferson counties may mean tapping into cell towers like this one off K-4 highway and 74th Street in Meriden.

The survey — which can be found at ipsr.ku.edu/broadband/kansas.shtml — opened at the beginning of June and is expected to stay open through the beginning of July.

Ginther expects survey results to build on some preliminary data gathered through a pilot study conducted in early January with Kansas college students.

"We thought that those students, while they were at home in between the semesters, could kind of give us a read," Ginther said. "(Kansas Board of) Regents students aren't scattered across every corner of the state, so we got a very patchwork of responses. But the numbers showed very low speeds.

"We're hoping to get more observations, to get better data, so we can see what actual connectivity looks like."

And with broadband access being touted locally and nationally as a crucial factor in future workforce and economic development, getting a read on where Kansas resident's internet access stands may be vital.

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"It's hard to make good policy with bad data," Ginther said. "Our goal is to get accurate data so informed decisions can be made on where to make investments. ... We believe that broadband is essential for the future of the Kansas economy."