Broadband survey now under way

MARTINSBURG — It’s no secret that various areas of the Eastern Panhandle, as well as other parts of West Virginia, still lack adequate high-speed Internet access.

As a result, state officials have teamed up with local volunteers to get a better handle on citizens’ broadband needs,specifically to identify unserved and under-served areas in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Once that’s been accomplished, the goal is to also develop a plan to handle the region’s problems.

That’s why area residents and businesses are now being asked to complete a short survey that seeks to determine if Internet service is available to them and the quality of that service, according to Region 9 Planning and Development Council GIS analyst Matthew Mullenax, who is helping coordinate the project.

The survey consists of 22 questions and won’t take more than a few minutes to complete, he said.

Mullenax said the survey questions seek to determine the type of Internet service available to residents as well as their opinion about the speed of that connection, its cost and reliability.

It also seeks information from folks who either don’t have – or don’t want – Internet service, he said.

Since the goal is to reach as many folks as possible, the survey is being distributed in a number of ways including email blasts to Chamber of Commerce members, public service announcements on local radio stations, links on Region 9 and partners’ web sites, Mullenax said.

Paper copies of the survey are also available at area libraries and at the Region 9 office in the Berkeley County Dunn Building, 400 W. Stephen St., Suite 301, Martinsburg.

“It’s very important for folks in the tri-county area to fill out a survey so we can have the feedback and really know the existing conditions,” Mullenax said. “A lot of people say their broadband is fast or slow, but the providers may have a different perspective so we just really need to understand what the reality is in the communities. We’re really trying to get the big picture, so we’d like for everyone to participate, regardless of how good or bad they feel their broadband service is.”

Mullenax said similar work is being done across the state and will ultimately be used to develop a statewide strategic plan for addressing under- and unserved areas.

Broadband, which is Internet service that’s typically faster than traditional dial up, is also important to area businesses and economic development activities, he said.

“There’s still work to be done since state research has shown some Morgan County households lack coverage. Anecdotally, a company’s inability to locate in the Paw Paw area due to a lack of adequate broadband accessibility illustrates the community’s need as well as how improvements can help with growth there,” Mullenax said, adding the region can apply for state and federal grants for broadband projects once the work is done.

“In the end, it could mean an extension of existing lines. Or in some areas where it’s not economically feasible for private companies to lay lines, it might be possible to use different technologies, such as microwave transmission or Wi-Fi hotspots to get that access,” Mullenax said.

It may also be possible to improve the efficiency of existing Internet service, he said.

The West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council has already been working on this need and has posted an interactive, state broadband coverage map on its website, www.broadband.wv.gov.

It also features a broadband speed test, which measures upload and download speeds and takes about 30 seconds to complete. The test is being used to determine and compare broadband speeds across the state, Mullenax said.

For questions or additional information, contact the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council by email at info@region9wv.com or by telephone at 304-263-1743.

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