Kansas still behind in high-speed Internet access

Kansas continues to lag behind the rest of the nation in access to high-speed Internet service, according to state and federal reports.

Only about a quarter of Kansans have fixed Internet service running at speeds fast enough to effectively stream audio or video, according to the annual report of the Kansas Corporation Commission, recently presented to the utilities committees in the state Legislature.

Nationally, about four out of 10 households have that capability.

“Broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life, but broadband in America is not yet where it needs to be,” the report said. “Similarly, advances in broadband deployment and speeds continue in Kansas, but we are not yet where we need to be.”

The report calculated that about 63 percent of the state’s 1.2 million households have a fixed connection to an Internet service offering download speeds of at least 200 kilobyte per second.

That 200 Kbps is about four times as fast as the old dial-up services and comparable to AT&T’s lowest-tier DSL broadband service.

The phone company’s Internet offerings range from a “Basic” package with speeds from 200 to 768 kilobytes per second, up to a U-verse “turbo” package between 18 and 24 megabytes per second, or Mbps.

The state report also showed that 292,000 households – or 24 percent – are connected to faster broadband service offering a download speed of 3 megabytes per second or faster.

For the Wichita area, that standard would correspond to the slowest speed service offered by Cox Cable, which offers packages with download speeds ranging from 3 to 50 Mbps.

The numbers on high-speed fixed Internet connections show that Kansas needs improvement, said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who serves on the House Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

“We need to get faster broadband out to more Kansans,” Ward said. “I don’t know how you can do business in today’s world without high-speed Internet.”

While 200 Kbps was once considered fast, “this speed is not adequate for many of the applications used by consumers and businesses today,” the report said.

The state report emphasized that increased speed is an increasingly important factor as Internet usage becomes more data-intensive.

It offered some guidelines of the speeds needed to perform specific tasks on the Internet:

• To check e-mail and browse the Internet, a user needs access to download speed of about 0.5 Mbps.

• To stream music or video, users need 1.5 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

• Schools and hospitals need access to at least 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps to provide telemedicine and distance learning.

• Video conferencing requires about 50 to 100 Mbps.

• Real-time medical image consulting requires over 100 Mbps.

Mobile wireless service – phones, tablets etc. – accounts for about half of Kansas’ overall Internet connections. It was not clear from state or federal reports how many individual mobile customers also have a fixed connection at their home or business.

Among the fixed connections, cable Internet is king of Kansas with 37 percent of the overall market. Phone-line based DSL service accounts for 9 percent of the market and about 3 percent of users get their access through fiber optic systems.

The state report was based on data gathered in 2011 by the Federal Communications Commission, which also broke down the state’s Internet connections by whether they were for business or residential use.

In Kansas, 76 percent of fixed Internet connections were homes while 24 percent were for business, according to the FCC.

Kansas had the highest percentage of connections devoted to businesses among the 50 states.

Ward said he thinks it’s a result of the rural nature of the state. People in remote areas have to shoulder the cost of Internet access to be able do business and make money, but “at home, they see it as more of a luxury,” he said.

The FCC also ranked Kansas against other states in terms of Internet connections.

For 200 Kbps connections, Kansas ranked at the national average, in a three-way tie with Ohio and Illinois for 25th among the 49 states that reported their data.

It was about the same position as the previous year, when Kansas tied for 21st place with six other states.

But the state fell well down the list when it came to higher speed service, according to the FCC report.

Kansas tied Wisconsin for 35th out of 47 states that reported data on connections of 3 Mbps or more. The previous year, Kansas had placed 34th out of the 47 states.

With only a fourth of its residents hooked up to 3 Mbps service or better, Kansas fell way below the national average of 38 percent.

“That’s not good enough,” Ward said. “Not for the 21st century.”