As daily life continues to change in the advent of 21st Century technological advances, it is becoming increasingly clear that access to reliable internet is necessary to keep the American dream alive.
To maintain that dream locally, Henry County is asking its residents to participate in a new survey designed to pinpoint the most significant lapses in the area’s currently available broadband coverage.
Residents of both Henry County and the City of Martinsville may take part in the survey which will be available until Sept. 15.
According to maps provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the area is currently considered a lower priority to receive federal and state grants to expand broadband.
“The mapping is absolutely key,” said Christian Youngblood, Director of Information Services. “If you look at the maps provided by the FCC, it appears like we have pretty good coverage but anyone who actually lives or works here knows that isn’t always the case. We need better data so we can help draw a more complete picture of what broadband really looks like locally.”
Participation in the survey isn’t limited to those without a home internet connection, Youngblood said.
“It is not just a matter of simply getting internet to everybody who lives here,” he said. “That is certainly one of the goals but we are also looking at other factors such as how fast the internet is and how expensive the internet is. Then we want to know what we can do to make it better.”
Overall, the survey created in partnership with ECC Technologies will help determine where broadband users are unserved or underserved. The data will then be used to develop a digital map of all internet providers and resources in the area.
Once the new digital map is created, Youngblood said it will be easier to ascertain and understand the community’s broadband needs, including the identification of all available broadband providers in the area and their pricing structure for those services.
The survey is not designed to help or promote any one particular vendor. It is for information gathering purposes only.
Youngblood said that so far, approximately a third of the responses to the survey have included comments.
“Those comments that were provided were very valuable too but we simply just need more of them,” Youngblood said. “The more information we have, the better.”
The survey will ask participants to include their address and answers to other optional questions related to demographics.
“The address is the only mandatory piece of information that we are requiring,” Youngblood said. “We will only be using this information for identifying the areas with the most gaps on the map. We won’t do anything else with it. All of the other demographic questions are completely optional but they will help us when we seek grants.”
Youngblood said federal and state agencies often consider the needs of underrepresented communities when issuing grants.
Along with the survey, residents will also have the ability to conduct a speed test on their broadband.
Participants should take the speed test at the same home or business listed as their address. Youngblood said to avoid running the test while other devices are using the internet for streaming or gaming. This will allow the test to gauge all of the available resources.
Similarly, it is recommended that the device used for the speed test be hard-wired instead of operating via Wi-Fi. It is not a requirement, but it will provide more accurate data. The survey may also be taken on a mobile device.
“It’s important that you are not using your cellular data on your mobile device when doing the speed test,” Youngblood said. “This won’t give an accurate picture of what our broadband coverage is like because the coverage for the two isn’t the same. We need participants to be connected to their Wi-Fi if they choose to do the speed test using their phones.”
Businesses are also eligible to participate in a separate survey. Those who operate a business from their home are encouraged to complete both a business survey and a residential survey to help identify their specific needs.
Residents who would like to participate but do not have access to the internet, may submit a paper copy of the survey. These paper copies can be obtained at all branches of the Blue Ridge Regional Library or the administrative offices in Henry County or Martinsville.