What is broadband?

Disappointed with your internet service? Can’t connect at all? The Klickitat County Office of Economic Development seeks your help to gather feedback and bridge the digital divide to bring reliable, high-speed internet to every household in the county.

Two surveys are currently open and collecting essential data on speed of service and geographical gaps in coverage. The Washington State Broadband Office, a project of the state Department of Commerce, is conducting an “Access and Speed Survey” that records upload and download speeds in real time from your computer and tracks that information visually with your location on a map. The test takes about a minute to complete. Identifying areas with a service deficit will more aptly inform plans to improve infrastructure statewide and helps “advance the state’s goal to have universal broadband access in Washington by 2024,” according to a statement. Visit commerce.wa.gov for more information and a link to the survey or scan our QR code at the top of this article to participate.

Jacob Anderson, Project Manager with Klickitat County, is taking the speed test one step further to focus in on hyper-local data. His office has developed a short answer survey to help improve accountability among specific Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating in the community. The survey will also gauge the distribution of types of service — dial-up, satellite, DSL, wireless, and others — and their rates of speed, reliability, and customer satisfaction across the county. This tool builds on the speed test, so respondents are encouraged to complete one and then the other. Find a link to the county’s survey at klickitatcounty.org/1260/Broadband (see QR code).

Online surveys are of little help if you’re in a digital desert and are without internet, regardless of speed. It’s estimated that 30 percent of rural residents nationwide do not have broadband access. Many Klickitat County residents are in this position, whether due to location or lack of affordable options. As internet service has transitioned from luxury convenience to essential service necessary for work, school, and healthcare, finding an adequate and affordable connection has become an issue of equity. Your input is equally important and critical to painting a complete picture toward the success of future planning. Contact Anderson directly and share your perspective: (509) 250-1828.

Broadband, loosely defined, simply means high-speed internet. It refers to the ability to supply a large volume of uninterrupted data to an end user. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines high-speed internet as a minimum of 25 megabytes per second (mbps) download and 3mbps upload speeds. Anderson explains that speed of service can diminish significantly in remote locations, as signals lose strength across space and time. “People are paying CenturyLink for 10 mbps, but only getting 2 mbps,” he says, pointing out common discrepancies in advertised service and actual delivery.

Infrastructure to connect and maintain consistent high-speed service is costly. In the absence of subsidies, ISPs—the majority of which are private companies—have little incentive to invest in providing quality service when there is minimal competition from the free market, and when the cost of service vastly exceeds rates offered in urban areas for similar service.

How can these costs be offset? The Office of Economic Development cites one incentive for participation in the Department of Commerce mapping survey is “to help our county be eligible for grants.” The Washington State Public Works Board introduced a funding opportunity in July of 2020, offering up $18 million statewide in grants and low-interest loans “to bring broadband to underserved Washington communities.” Anderson reported that, while counties are among the several entities eligible to apply, his office would not be submitting an application. Rather, he said, they were in communication with several different ISPs and hopeful that one might submit a proposal to include expanding and improving service within the county. “I’m always sitting on a knife edge,” says Anderson. “As a public entity, is it my job to decide which private company to partner with.” The Public Works funding cycle closes Sept. 9, with decisions due in October.

Broadband survey data collection will be ongoing through the coming months. Check back soon for further updates and analysis from The Sentinel.