MARTINSBURG – Internet options and service quality are reportedly inadequate across much of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle Region, according to results of a recent survey tapping public opinion on the state of broadband across Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties.
About 1,400 residents and businesses responded to the survey conducted by the Region 9 Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council, which provides a snapshot of the current state of Internet service in the area and sets the stage for planned improvements.
“We are pleased with the responses and the interest people in our area have on this important issue,” said Matthew Mullenax, Region 9 Planning and Development Council GIS analyst. Mullenax headed up the survey.
Conducted over a seven-week period between July 9 and Aug. 24, surveys were made available in numerous formats, including online through Region 9 and partnering organizations’ websites, through email blasts, via public service announcements in area media outlets, and in paper format at local libraries and the Region 9 office.
About 95 percent of the respondents said they have Internet access. However, only 27 percent of residents and 45 percent of businesses have high-speed, broadband Internet capacity, according to speed standards established by the Federal Communications Commission.
Although service reliability was rated favorably among survey respondents (66 percent of residents and 78 percent of businesses), problems were indicated with lack of choices among service providers, cost, and speed.
The Region 9 coverage area has two dominant Internet providers — Frontier Communications and Comcast — that service 86 percent of the residents and 72 percent of the business respondents. According to poll results, more than 62 percent indicated they are dissatisfied with the limited choice in providers. Additionally, 57 percent of residents and 33 percent of businesses are dissatisfied with the cost of Internet service.
Survey results, along with an examination of state broadband initiatives and best practices in broadband improvement and expansion elsewhere in the country, will be studied by Region 9’s Regional Broadband Planning Team, which consists of community and business leaders, as well as Internet service providers.
The RBPT will develop a regional Broadband Strategic Plan to expand Internet coverage, improve service efficiencies, and increase awareness of the economic and lifestyle benefits of broadband Internet service throughout the Panhandle Region. The Broadband Strategic Plan is expected to be completed by December.