Broadband test could help improve internet access in Santa Rosa

In an effort to improve internet access in rural and underserved areas of Santa Rosa County, county staff members are working to promote an online event that will help identify trouble spots in the area. .

Around the end of February, officials will ask all county residents to participate in a broadband speed test created by Florida’s Office of Broadband.

The Office of Broadband was established in the summer of 2020 under the state Department of Economic Opportunity. It works with local and state government agencies, community organizations, and private businesses to increase the availability and effectiveness of high-speed Internet throughout the state, especially in smaller, rural communities.

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The office has rolled out broadband speed tests across Florida to better identify and reach unserved and underserved areas of the state. The resulting map will be an asset to local communities and Internet Service Providers to aid them in broadband planning efforts.

The state’s broadband strategic plan is expected to be completed by June 30, and Kyle Holley, Santa Rosa outreach and community liaison for grants and special projects, said he plans to promoting a countywide campaign to encourage residents to pick up the state’s broadband speed. test so that all residents are taken into account when the Office of Broadband logs the data.

“I want to try to get everybody talking about it for two or three days and see what kind of results we can get up there,” Holley said.

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Part of the push will also involve creating a local technology team for the county that can continue exploring broadband expansion after the speed test event at the end of the month.

“So what I’m trying to do with the local tech team is to use February, March, April, May, June – five months to talk about what we should be doing after they (the Office of Broadband) have released their strategic plan,” says Holly. “They will, in theory, make funds available.”

Phyllis Peters, senior director of communications at Mediacom, said the state of Florida’s broadband subsidy program hasn’t fully ended, but the internet service provider has been in touch with government officials in the Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties.

“It’s in all of our interests to know what a county or city is trying to do — what their goals are, where they want services to be expanded,” Peters said. “It’s in the interests of city officials to better understand how far our fiber is deployed, and then what it takes to get from point A to point B, or C.”

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Holley said he will need help from other county institutions to promote the speed test.

“We’re heading into a communications event. This communications event will be a county-wide, all-court press. Everybody’s taking that speed test because that’s what we’re looking for,” said Holly.

Both Holley and Peters stressed that places like schools, hospitals and libraries need to be well serviced.

“I think it’s critical that anchor institutions be connected, and in most places, connected at speeds that deliver at least a gigabit or more,” Peters said.

On the county’s information technology side, Santa Rosa IT and GIS manager Adrian Lowndes said that while he expects the county to facilitate some broadband expansion efforts, most future responsibility will fall on private companies to venture into underserved areas.

“We don’t have any of these public-private partnerships. We don’t deal with any of that,” Lowndes said. “And I know that term has been floated before as a possibility. It’s just not something that’s ever been acted on and whether or not it comes to fruition, I don’t know.”

Cox Universal Home Technician Sean Tidwell performs service work on the company's internet service in the cantonment area April 1, 2020. As Florida works to improve internet access in small rural communities, Santa Rosa County officials are urging all area residents to participate in a broadband speed test in late February.

Both Holley and Peters stressed the importance of getting data from those living in rural areas, and Holley pointed out that people who are desensitized to slower internet are the exact people who need to be reached for testing. of speed.

“And a lot of these governments are very concerned about ‘Are we reaching places that are somehow removed from metropolitan areas?'” Peters said. “(They’re) not off the map. Sure, there are people living there, but they’re just not well served. What’s the best way to serve them?”

Holley said the next step is to finalize the local technology team and publicize the speed test. He said everything on this topic is changing and will be updated soon.

“I mean, there’s a whole lot of really rich detail in what we’re going to learn as we go through all of this,” Holley said.

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