The Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast has launched a Tri-County internet needs assessment survey and speed test campaign.
The campaign is encouraging the public to report its internet experience and speed at home, work or wherever they connect.
“Initially we have been working over the last year on the Santa Barbara County Broadband Strategic Plan and (on understanding) the needs of Santa Barbara County internet users,” Shelby Arthur, collaborative coordinator of the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast for Santa Barbara County, told the News-Press. “This is a common practice on assessing internet needs across the state.”
The tri-counties are Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.
The needs assessment survey for Santa Barbara County was completed in June 2022 as a component of the county’s broadband plan.
“We decided to take this opportunity to expand speed testing to the Tri-county area and reopen the testing for Santa Barbara County,” Ms. Arthur explained. “The program is funded through the California Emerging Technology Fund. There are similar speed tests going around in different parts of the state.
“This will help us compare what providers are offering in terms of speeds and what people in counties are actually experiencing,” she said. “This information will help us to assess discrepancies and build on the tests conducted in June.
“The Infrastructure and Jobs Act includes an imperative to upgrade and update the broadband infrastructure in our communities,” Ms. Arthur noted. “It also includes funding to help communities upgrade broadband systems and infrastructure. It is important to know the speed of the internet in our counties or if they don’t have it at all.”
Data from the survey and speed test campaign will be mapped by GEO Partners, LLC., a geospatial engineering firm, and used to identify areas in the county with low or no access to high-speed internet. Within this test, individuals can also identify areas with low or no service or where access to the internet is unaffordable.
The News-Press inquired as to what areas of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have low or no internet access.
“The priority areas include: Los Alamos, Cuyama, around Casmalia and Guadelupe,” Ms. Arthur said. “There are pockets in every community that are ‘under served,’ meaning no access to speeds necessary to conduct economic, professional and health activities.”
Maria Kelly, collaborative coordinator for Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast for San Luis Obispo County, told the News-Press: “There are very few areas that have no access. Most of it is mostly the peripheral and unincorporated areas. As we collect data over time, I suspect we will find areas with low to no service. We are talking about internet service, not satellite service.”
Ms. Arthur said the assessment is live now and that plans call for it to remain open through June, but added, “If we continue to get the data we need we will continue to collect.
“The Federal Communications Commission has released the national broadband maps recently updated showing where there is access to the internet and where it is lacking,” she said. “These speed tests will help us with a local comparison and an opportunity to challenge the FCC map if it is not reflective of our reality. So we are pushing for the assessment to be taken sooner rather than later so we can get data to understand if we need to pursue challenging the FFC. The window to challenge the FCC closes in January.”
In December 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Broadband for All law to advance the state’s commitment to bring affordable access to high-speed internet service across California. The information collected through the Tri-County survey and speed test will be used to seek funding to improve affordable access to high-performing internet.
“Anyone living in Santa Barbara or SLO or Ventura counties is eligible for the assessment,” Ms. Arthur said. “We are interested in collecting information from your home or business.”
Ms. Kelly said the assessment is voluntary and that private information won’t be collected.
And Ms. Arthur noted that the FCC is providing a $30 subsidy to cover internet bills through its Affordable Connectivity Program. She said that in some cases, that would make internet access free.