By Emily Banks Wooten
Efforts have been underway for some time to improve broadband internet access throughout rural East Texas and the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) has led the charge with its broadband initiative. However, discrepancies regarding local broadband internet service could decrease the amount of funding available. Time is running out and in order for Polk County to maximize its broadband service, these discrepancies must be corrected.
Local citizens are being asked to complete a quick internet survey from their home or business, regardless of their provider or level of service. As many people as possible need to complete the testing so that the needs of the county may be evaluated. To participate in the quick survey, go to the website at https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/7218052/Deep-East-Texas-Internet-Speed-Test or click here to test the site.
“We are encouraging everyone to assist their employees, residents, members, etc. in completing the survey. The data will allow Polk County, DETCOG and the State Broadband Office to make more educated decisions with regard to internet and broadband capabilities. We cannot stress enough the importance of maximum participation in this program from all areas of the county,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “Please forward the survey information to anyone who might be interested or benefit. We want to improve our coverage for educational, medical and business purposes, along with a multitude of other reasons.
Murphy said the county is hosting a meeting to discuss the DETCOG broadband mapping project at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the temporary county judge’s office located at 410 E. Church St. “If your organization is having any difficulties or has any problems with the website link, please let us know and plan on attending the meeting,” she said.
DETCOG Executive Director Lonnie Hunt said he has received numerous inquiries concerning the new broadband maps, having found so many discrepancies with the map released late last year. Then, the Texas Broadband Development Office released the new state broadband map and it, too, appears to contain many inaccuracies.
“If not corrected, this could mean less money coming to Deep East Texas to solve our broadband issues,” Hunt said.
DETCOG’s broadband project manager, Mickey Slimp, put together a summary for each of the 12 DETCOG counties and forwarded those reports to each county.
“We will share this with other government and community leaders, too, and encourage you to share it with other partners that could be helpful in getting together the information needed to challenge the state map,” Hunt said.
“The State of Texas will be distributing funding for broadband based on the following Texas State Broadband Office map. Areas showing as blue on the map are considered well covered by existing or anticipated providers, so no funds will be forthcoming. Areas in orange are considered ‘underserved,’ meaning they are reported to have 25 to 100 mbps available for every household, so will be a second priority for funding. No homes in Polk County are shown as unserved, which is the priority area for funding,” Hunt said.
“We need to assess the map provided by DETCOG to assess the accuracy of the information. Quite obviously, this map contains a plethora of misinformation since it claims that we have zero residents that are unserved. I myself am unserved,” Murphy said.
“If we do not correct the information at this time, then we will have to live with the map as it is. The challenges may include cities, schools, economic development/chambers of commerce, businesses, VFDs, co-ops, etc. Since internet/broadband technology is essential to daily life and will only gain in importance, we must make every effort to improve service to our residents and children/students, medical and business community, elderly and indigent residents, along with providing service to visitors,” Murphy said.
“As earlier noted, DETCOG is available to help counties and political subdivisions dispute inaccuracies in the state broadband map. Disputes to the map must be made at a census block level and include proof from 20% of the homes in the block that they are and will be underserved by the existing and proposed technologies,” Slimp said.
“As individuals complete the speed test on the website, the data will be fed into a spreadsheet that will automatically add the coordinates of latitude and longitude required for a dispute and sort the respondents by county and by census block,” Slimp said.
“This information needs to be distributed as widely as possible including to utility customers, news outlets, businesses, companies, schools and parents, churches, firefighters, chambers, civic clubs, and anyone in your communities who are interested in improved broadband. We are targeting at least 15,000 responses from our region,” Slimp said.