Article

Wichita's Digital Leap

Ivo Ivanov, CEO DE-CIX International
5 February 2024

Winning a game should never depend on where you live. But unavailability of high-speed Internet places many Americans at a disadvantage. Ivo Ivanov, CEO of DE-CIX, assesses the impact of a new Internet Exchange (IX) in Wichita.

Winning a game should never be dependent on where you live. But for many Americans, slow Internet speeds result in an unfair disadvantage during gameplay and can forfeit a game to an opponent with faster Internet. The same goes for video conferencing and collaborative works tools: Companies with lower-quality Internet services experience lower levels of productivity compared to areas with good coverage. And there’s no question that the east and west coasts have an advantage when it comes to Internet connectivity. Because even when a state or region has advanced fiber-optic infrastructure, the lack of a local Internet Exchange (IX) can lead to subpar network performance, affecting everything from typical browsing to critical business operations. For cities aiming to attract modern tech companies, the lack of an IX can be a significant drawback.

Internet Exchanges are vital for robust digital connectivity. They serve as key junctions where different networks converge to exchange data directly, ensuring efficient, high-speed Internet access. In the United States alone, hundreds of cities – especially in remote and rural regions – currently suffer from the economic hurdle and unfair disadvantage of poor Internet connectivity, something which the establishment of local Internet Exchanges can alleviate by providing a more direct connection to the global Internet. Currently, there are 14 states and three territories, among them Alaska, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, that cannot boast a single IX, and many communities that are so far from existing IXs that their impact is minimal. In fact, according to an analysis by the non-profit organization Connected Nation, there are well over a hundred small to medium-sized cities throughout the US that could serve as strategic hubs for their regions to close the digital divide that leaves large parts of the center of the North American continent trailing behind major hubs on the east and west coast. One of these cities is Wichita, and the forthcoming establishment of an IX will be a game-changer for the region, promising to elevate the city's digital capabilities to new heights.

One small step for Kansas, one giant leap for connectivity

Recently announced by Governor Laura Kelly, the establishment of Kansas' first IX in the facilities of CNIXP (a joint venture between Connected Nation and the infrastructure investment company Newby Ventures), represents a significant leap forward for the region's digital infrastructure. With the CNIXP facilities funded by a $5 million state grant and the carrier neutral IX to be built and operated by DE-CIX on behalf of CNIXP, this project is poised to transform how local and regional networks, including cloud services and content networks like Amazon and Netflix, interact. By facilitating direct data exchange, the IX will enhance network performance, lower the cost of connectivity, and improve access to cloud services across south-central Kansas.

It will achieve this by directly interconnecting the networks locally. Direct interconnection and the aggregation of networks in a hub like the Wichita IX shortens the distance that data needs to travel because it no longer needs to be transported out of state to distant hubs to be exchanged. Data can thus reach its destination faster, significantly reducing the latency and improving the performance of content, applications, and clouds. Shorter data pathways also reduce the costs of connectivity by avoiding unnecessary and cost-intensive detours, making access to the Internet more affordable for more people.

CNIXP’s data center facilities – in this context, also referred to as an Internet Exchange Point or IXP – are to be strategically placed at Wichita State University, the first facility of its kind in the country to be located on a university campus. The construction of the IXP and establishment of the IX promise to revolutionize Internet performance, affordability, and reliability for a wide range of users, from students to businesses across the state. This advancement is expected to attract more companies to the region, offering them the competitive advantages of low latency and high bandwidth at reasonable costs. The endeavor neatly underscores Wichita's commitment to digital transformation, enhancing the state's appeal to tech companies and innovators, and positioning it as a leader in the national digital landscape. As Wichita State University’s President, Rick Muma, puts it: “A connected community is a stronger community. A carrier-neutral IXP located in the heart of Kansas at Wichita State will build bridges of connectivity and access to meet the ever-evolving demands of education and commerce to all Kansans.”

National context: Bridging the digital divide

The significance of an IX for Wichita extends beyond local boundaries, addressing a critical national issue: the digital divide. Across the United States, vast tracks of land and an enormous population of Americans lack access to a local exchange, hindering their connection to the global Internet and participation in the digital economy. The 14 states and three territories mentioned above correspond to a population of around 30 million US Americans that are currently being left behind. This gap in digital infrastructure not only affects Internet quality but also limits economic and educational opportunities, widening the divide between connected and disconnected communities. Underserved communities therefore pay more to access the Internet but are served at lower quality than their compatriots on the east and west coasts. Wichita's IX serves as a model for other regions, demonstrating how strategic digital investments can bridge this divide, offering a blueprint for other states to follow in enhancing their digital landscapes and ensuring equitable access to high-speed Internet for all.

The establishment of Internet Exchanges like the one in Wichita is a pivotal step toward shaping a more connected and digitally empowered future across the United States. These IXs are not just infrastructure developments; they are the keystones in building a resilient, efficient, and inclusive digital landscape. As technology advances, the role of IXs in enhancing Internet connectivity and fostering innovation will be crucial in driving the nation's digital progress.