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Broadband survey kicks off this week in Panhandle

July 09, 2012

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Various areas of the Eastern Panhandle, not to mention 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 underserved areas in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

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

That’s why area residents and businesses are being asked to complete a short survey seeking 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, Mullenax said in a news release from Region 9.

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

Conversely, 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 people 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, and links on Region 9 and partners’ websites, Mullenax said.

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

“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.

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

Broadband — 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 (W.Va.) 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.

He also noted that “once this regional work is done, we can begin applying for state and federal grants for broadband projects. 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 might also be possible to improve the efficiency of existing Internet service, he said.

The West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council has posted an interactive, state broadband coverage map at www.broadband.wv.gov.

It also features a broadband speed test that measures upload and download speeds, and takes about 30 seconds to complete. The test is being used to determine and to 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 calling 304-263-1743.

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