Got slow internet in Santa Rosa County? This test may help you get better internet access.
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 the area's problem spots.
Near the end of February, officials will ask everyone in the county 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 purview of the state's Department of Economic Opportunity. It works with local and state government agencies, community organizations and private businesses to increase the availability and effectiveness of broadband internet throughout the state, specifically in small and rural communities.
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The office has been rolling out broadband speed testing 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 assist with broadband planning efforts.
The state's strategic plan for broadband is slated to be completed by June 30, and Kyle Holley, Santa Rosa outreach and community liaison for grants and special projects, said he expects to promote a campaign across the county to encourage residents to take the state's broadband speed test so that all residents are accounted for as the Office of Broadband takes in the data.
"I want to try to get everybody talking about that for two or three days and see what kind of results we could get pushed up there," Holley said.
Part of the push is also going to involve creating a local technology team for the county which can continue to explore broadband expansion after the speed test event at the end of the month.
"So, what I'm trying to do with the local technology team is use February, March, April, May, June — five months to talk about what we should do after they (the Office of Broadband) publish their strategic plan," Holley said. "They're going to, in theory, make funding available."
Phyllis Peters, senior director of communications at Mediacom, said Florida's state broadband grant program is not entirely finished, but the internet service provider has been in contact with government officials in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties.
"It's in all of our interests to learn about what a county or a city is trying to do — what their objectives are, where they want the services expanded," Peters said. "It's in the interest of city officials to better understand just how extensively 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 the help of other county institutions to promote taking the speed test.
"We are building toward a communication event. That communication event is going to be a county-wide, full-court press. Everybody takes this speed test because that's what we're looking for," Holley said.
Both Holley and Peters emphasized at the very least, places like schools, hospitals, and libraries need to be well-serviced.
"I think it's essential that anchor institutions are connected, and in most places, connected to speeds that offer at least a gigabit or faster," Peters said.
On the county's information technology side of things, Santa Rosa IT and GIS Director Adrian Lowndes said while he expects the county to facilitate some broadband expansion efforts, most of the future responsibility will fall on to private companies to venture into underserved areas.
"We don't have any of those public-private partnerships. We don't deal with any of that," Lowndes said. "And I do know that term has been thrown around before as a possibility. That's just not something that's ever been acted on and whether that ever comes to fruition or not, I don't know."
Both Holley and Peters stressed the importance of getting data from those who live in rural areas, and Holley emphasized people who are desensitized to slower internet are the exact people that need to be reached for the speed test.
"And a lot of these governments are very concerned about, 'Are we reaching places that are sort of away from the metro areas?'" Peters said. "(They're) not off the map. Certainly, there's people that live there, but they're just not being well-served. What is the best way to serve them?"
Holley said the next step is finalizing the local technology team and getting the word out about taking the speed test. He said everything on this topic is changing and will be updated quickly.
"I mean, there's a host of just really rich detail in what we're going to learn as we go through this whole thing," Holley said.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Broadband test could help bring better internet access to Santa Rosa