Baker sees gigabit Internet as important competitive edge

? When Luke Miltz returns to Baker University next month, the No. 1 complaint he and fellow members of the Baker University Student Senate heard in recent years should be resolved.

“The main complaint was that we need to find a way to make the Internet faster,” said Miltz, who is serving as an intern for a Lenexa software company before returning to Baker for his senior year in August. “So hopefully, that will be accomplished.”

At a press conference earlier this month at RG Fiber’s downtown Baldwin City office, CEO Mike Bosch said Baker University would be the first customer the company “lights up” in August. The company is currently installing gigabit cable from just east of Eudora to Baldwin City via a route along Kansas Highway 10 and then south along CR 1055.

All is on schedule for the Baldwin City campus to have fiber optic gigabit Internet access in the first or second week of August, said Bosch and Andy Jett, Baker’s chief information officer and vice president of strategic planning and academic resources. With that, gigabit access will be available in all university academic halls, sports venues, the Harter Student Union and residence halls, where 500 of the about 930 undergraduates on Baker’s Baldwin City campus reside.

Faster Internet access will help improve Baker’s administrative efficiency and will have significant academic consequences going forward, but Jett said an important immediate factor for Baker administrators was the competitive edge it affords in recruiting high school graduates who grew up socializing, playing games, watching movies and TV shows and completing homework assignments on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

“We do know this level of bandwidth is important to us competitively,” he said. “Students want to have a similar level of bandwidth they have at home with the same access to whatever devices they have.

“Students come first. Providing them with improved gigabit access to improve their living environment in the evening and night, that’s the priority.”

The large percentage of Baker students from Johnson County and the Kansas City metropolitan area only adds to the significance of the upgrades, because it’s not the only private university in the area set to see significant fiber optic improvements. MidAmerica Nazarene University is installing 14,000 feet of fiber optic and conduit to connect 23 buildings on its Olathe campus in addition to adding new routers and access points. Kevin Gilmore, MNU vice president of financial affairs, said the system would be completed in September and would better allow the school to take advantage of the fiber optic access it has had for a number of years.

MNU officials, too, view the upgrades as an important tool in recruiting and retaining students.

“Students expect more reliable access with greater speed,” Gilmore said. “The floor is a lot higher than it used to be. This used to be viewed as a luxury. Now it’s a bare necessity.”

For Baker students like Miltz and Chad Phillips, a junior biology major from Wichita, gigabit access holds a promise of allowing the entertainment options they have in their hometowns and an end to homework frustrations.

“I sometimes take my laptop to the library or class, but mostly have my phone in class,” Phillips said. “I use my laptop in my room to do homework or watch Netflix occasionally. It’s frustrating when Netflix lags.

“When I’m in my fraternity doing homework in the evening when everybody is trying to get on, that’s when there are more problems. When you’re working on something that’s due, it’s already stressful. When you can’t do research because of slow Internet, that just makes it worse.”

Internet access isn’t an academic option, it’s a necessity, Miltz said.

Baker students use the online learning management software package Moodle to communicate online with professors, check class schedules and assignments and turn in homework.

“A lot of textbooks provide codes that allow you to access quizzes online you complete at the end of a section,” Miltz said. “You submit them online and they are automatically graded. Sometimes with limited bandwidth it’s difficult to get or stay connected. It can be really frustrating.”

Miltz and Phillips both live in fraternities. Although the school’s greek houses won’t be part of Baker’s system, they are not being forgotten. Bosch said he was working with the school’s fraternities and sororities to provide service at a “Baker group rate,” and three close to the school would be connected when service was extended to the campus.

The focus now is on providing access to the residence halls and student body, but gigabit connectivity obviously would have consequences in the classroom, Jett said. Improved access would allow more use of online lectures, videos, data sets and cloud-based educational software programs, he said.

“With limited bandwidth, we couldn’t take advantage of all that is out there,” he said.