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Speed Test: Group pushes for data to provide better broadband

Rural access to internet in Southeast Ohio is only marginally hampered by hilly terrain of the Appalachian region, experts say, the strength to advance lies in population cooperative organization. (Graphic illustration by Janelle Patterson)

If 10 percent of households in each of Washington County’s six public school districts took a five-minute internet speed test, residents would reach statistic validation to contest the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

“With this data, there are two objectives; one is to show that the FCC 477 data is inaccurate … the second is so that we can start to prioritize deployment and at least get wireless spots out for kids this school year that need them,” said David Brown, Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative founding member, of Rainbow.

The speed test is free, anonymous, and to be used in both the short- and long-term planning of internet access for Southeast Ohio.

“For example, we have a whole lot of people who’ve listed themselves as no service, the more we see the empirical data of that, of their votes in there the more we can focus resources to cover those locations,” said Brown.

How

“First, we try to gather as many speed tests as we possibly can,” explained Paul Deming, CEO of GEO Partners LLC, based out of Minneapolis.

The Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative has partnered with the geospatial engineering firm to propel the conversation of broadband from stories of lost service to actionable data.

“Once we gather those tests, we’ll take this data and plug that into the (state/federal) applications for funds,” Deming detailed. “That (data-filled) application then ranks very high on the list because of statistical validity.”

Brown and Deming explained that the statistic validation is where each individual household of Washington County gets its greatest impact to combat the years-long excuse of rural population density.

¯ Problem 1: Population

“The number one reason we get why good internet isn’t feasibly here is population density,” Brown explained. “There are not enough households per mile to make it profitable for the carriers to put in the infrastructure.”

¯ Solution 1: Cooperation

To remove that excuse, the cooperative was created early this year, organized similar to that of electric cooperatives.

¯ Problem 2: Coverage data

Now enter the speed test for statistic validation.

“Remember that all the FCC has is what the providers are telling them they’re doing,” Deming explained. “Now, the folks in the footprint have the voice.” he said.

For example, according to the FCC, the area along Ohio 821 between Whipple, Lower Salem, Wingett Run and Germantown is listed as covered by minimum speeds of 35 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed.

By that speed, a device should download one five-minute song instantly and open a new web page instantly.

(For reference, dial-up modem speeds took approximately 14 seconds across industry standards to open a new web page and 12 minutes to download a five-minute song.)

But according to speed tests taken over the weekend by residents in the Ohio 821 area, speeds between Frontier Communications and AT&T are reaching between 0.1-2.87 Mbps download speeds and 0.2-1.09 upload speeds.

According to the FCC, the minimum download speed acceptable (as of Feb. 5) for a student needing internet to complete schoolwork in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is 5-25 Mbps download speed.

¯ Solution 2: Participation

“With this data, we’ll be able to identify who could be hit with a wireless signal, because that could be deployed in 30 days or less,” Brown said, noting the need for participation especially in the four rural local school districts. “We’ve already begun to note that of the students from Fort Frye (Local Schools) that do not have access right now, 50-60 percent could be covered easily with the deployment of wireless signal.”

Glenn Fishbine, of GEO Partners, explained the technical specifications behind the data gathered and what comes next.

He said with the data submitted by Washington County residents, he can begin building designs to get areas covered that are clearly not or are under-served by minimum speeds.

Added to that recipe for design are data from:

¯ Topography.

¯ Existing cell and radio towers.

¯ Existing fiberoptic cables.

¯ Census block data.

¯ Legislative district data.

¯ School district data.

“Then the hills are not really as much of a problem as you would think, we just got done designing for a study in Kentucky and your ridges are not prohibitive terrain, it’s annoying, but the drops are not too bad,” Fishbine explained. “It’s really about finding the right ridge and pairing the directional towers to get fuller coverage.”

Fishbine walked through an example with Washington County where if utilizing one ridgeline approximately one-mile south (the way the crow flies) of the outdoor range of the Fort Harmar Rifle Club could provide nearly 25 Mbps download speed at the range off of Fifteenmile Creek Road.

With the design and feasibility study, come seven options for the communities, county and both state and federal officials to consider.

“From the cheapest to 100 percent fiber for the whole county and we have a progression we walk you through and how it’s designed with hybrid options. Then we jump to the financial spreadsheet where we determine what’s a reasonable rate for the citizens of Washington County and if the county (or cooperative) is applying for a federal grant, how does that play into the finances,” said Deming. “Then what the community gets is their own website, with an extensive laundry list of topography, towers, different combinations of fiber and wireless and that’s all available for the community. Then everybody can sit down and determine what percentage of fiber do we need, want and what can we afford?”

Doing your part

As of print time Tuesday, 281 households in Washington County — 0.99 percent– had already begun to populate a digital map of internet service in the rural southeast Ohio county.

The goal: a minimum of 3,000 households in Washington County participating.

“Two weeks from now we want to begin showing this data to the FCC and the governor’s office on broadband to confirm what has up to this point been anecdotal with empirical evidence,” said Brown.

The stats as of Tuesday:

Belpre City School District: 2 out of 3,964 households complete.

Fort Frye Local School District: 166 out of 2,560 households complete.

Frontier Local School District: 3 out of 2,132 households complete.

Marietta City School District: 39 out of 9,809 households complete.

Warren Local School District: 30 out of 5,610 households complete.

Wolf Creek Local School District: 15 out of 1,288 households complete.

“Newport and New Matamoras are areas we’re trying to get more people because they have no coverage represented right now,” said Brown.

“And there’s not enough data yet around Cutler, Little Hocking or the western parts of the county,” added Fishbine.

All residents are invited to participate, whether they have school-age children or not.

“The focus here recently because of the virus has been rural schools, but the goal is affordable access for everyone,” said Fishbine.

***

By the numbers:

¯ Washington County has 16 census blocks as identified by the 2010 census.

¯ To reach statistic validation, 3,000 of the county’s estimated 28,367 households must participate in an internet speed test.

¯ By public school district, the following number of households have participated thus far:

¯ Belpre: 2/3,964.

¯ Fort Frye: 166/2,560.

¯ Frontier: 3/2,132.

¯ Marietta: 39/9,809.

¯ Warren: 30/5,610.

¯ Wolf Creek: 15/1,288.

*Approximately 10.62 percent of Washington County households are attached to out-of-county school districts.

Sources: GEO Partners, LLC; U.S. Census Bureau.

How to participate:

¯ By Oct. 23, use your home computer, tablet or other internet-connected devices to go to: https://www.seobc.us/

¯ Identify the address where you access internet, or have no service.

¯ Invite neighbors to do the same.

¯ Visit https://bit.ly/SpeedTestWashOH to track the participation of Washington County in this study.

¯ Map key:

¯ Black dot = no service.

¯ Red dot = less than 10 Mbps download speed.

¯ Yellow dot = 10-25 Mbps download speed.

¯ Green dot = 25+ Mbps download speed.

Sources: GEO Partners, LLC; Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative.

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