By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Broadband Council wants residents to test the speed of their internet service to determine where the state is strong and weak in connectivity.
The council created a Speed Test Portal for residents to measure internet speed. This test will provide data to generate a statewide broadband coverage map to identify the presence and level of broadband service in the state, the council said in a recent news release on the effort.
“The speed test is really important,” Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said. “This is one of those things where before you know where you’re going to go, you have to know where you are. So we’re trying to identify what type of broadband service we have. That’s what the speed tests do for us.”
“With this information, the Broadband Council will work with local governments to help bring affordable broadband service to underserved and unserved areas of the state,” Council Chairman Robert Hinton, said in a recent Department of Commerce news release.
The speed test is independently administered through an internet speed testing and analysis company, according to the release. To take the speed test, people may visit: https://broadband.wv.gov.
“We want people to take the speed test, send it in and from there, we will create a map of where we are in the state of West Virginia and identify where our priorities should be,” Thrasher said. “From that, we can identify where we are strong and where we are weak. We can identify where to prioritize areas to put funding and resources to generate broadband connectivity.”
The Broadband Enhancement Council was created in 2016 to provide and oversee the development of plans for extending broadband access throughout the state.
In this year’s session, the Legislature passed House Bill 3093. Among other responsibilities, the bill directed the council to publish an annual assessment and map of broadband in the state, authorizing the council to create an interactive map of broadband services.
“The broadband council has been around for a while but it was empowered in the last legislative session,” Thrasher said. “It dramatically increased powers the broadband council had but also the funding it has available to direct toward broadband enhancement.”
“It has the power. It has the money and it already has a number of initiatives coming through that group to spread broadband throughout West Virginia.”
The bill listed a goal of the state to make every municipality, community and rural area in the state accessible to internet services through expansion by 2020.
Under the bill, some of the council’s responsibilities include exploring ways to expand access to broadband services; gathering data about speeds provided to consumers compared to what is advertised; exploring potential for increased use of broadband service for the purposes of education, career readiness, workforce preparation and alternative career training; and assisting in expanding electronic instruction and distance education services.
Thrasher said the council and the speed test are important for bringing West Virginia up to speed with connectivity.
He mentioned the council’s October report, which cited a study from the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 broadband progress report which ranked West Virginia 48th for percentage of residents without access to broadband internet service.
“It is a critical need for West Virginia,” Thrasher said, citing the FCC report. “We should be much further along than we are. We have tremendous needs and opportunities.”
“We are so far behind that it’s not going to happen overnight,” Thrasher added. “But I can tell you that there are significant steps being made immediately. We are identifying projects and going to get broadband to 13,000 new people in the initial projects coming through the council. I think there’s going to be substantial movement here. Based on the successes, I hope the Legislature will see fit to give us even more resources going forward to accelerate. If you don’t have broadband in these small towns, they will not survive. So, I feel there’s a great sense of urgency about that.”
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