When Troy University personnel tallied the results of an internet speed test for area internet customers in April, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative chief operating officer Brad Kimbro was not surprised.
The speed test revealed that 59 percent of participants did not experience download speeds of at least 10 megabytes per second and 58 percent did not register upload speeds on at least 1 megabyte per second. Those speed figures define high-speed internet access in a state law that provides grants for increasing broadband internet access to rural areas of Alabama.
The survey involved Wiregrass Electric Cooperative customers, most of whom live in rural areas, and sought to define how large the broadband access problem is locally. Kimbro hopes the information persuades changes in federal regulations that would allow rural America to truly receive the broadband funding it needs.
“We can’t let rural America be left behind,” he said. “Seventy percent of America’s landmass is rural. Without broadband, rural areas will lose jobs and poverty will rise.”
Dothan residents provided 34 percent of the 2,402 validated responses, and most of those respondents reached the 10/1 mbps benchmark. Kinston (219), Cottonwood (196) and Enterprise (172) had the most responses after Dothan.
Overall, the area had a median internet download speed of 6.1 mbps and an upload speed of 0.8 mbps. The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband service as 25 mbps of download speed and 3 mbps of upload speed – of which only 29 and 33 percent of the respondents experienced, respectively.
The survey also identified speeds based on internet service providers (ISPs). More than half of the respondents use CenturyLink service, which scored poorly during the speed test.
Only 9 percent (106 participants) of CenturyLink respondents experienced at least 10 mbps of download speeds while only 4 percent registered 1 mbps of upload speed. Michael Baker, CenturyLink lead communications manager, said CenturyLink offers high-speed internet service of up to 100 mbps depending on a user’s address in the Dothan market.
ISPs scoring well were Spectrum, Comcast, and Troy Cable. Troy Cable is in a partnership with Wiregrass Electric on broadband endeavors.
Wiregrass Electric collected the data in an effort to free up some federal broadband funding (Connect America Fund) and some state funding, as well. The FCC uses census blocks to determine an area’s connectivity status, and blocks are marked as reached if at least one person experiences broadband speeds in those blocks.
Additionally companies who receive CAF monies have up to five years to install their broadband programs, a fact that earns the same designation from the FCC. Baker said CenturyLink has embarked on some large projects using CAF funding in Alabama, wiring 30,000 homes between August 2015 and the end of 2018.
The project will expand high-speed internet access to 48,000 statewide when it is finished, he added.
Kimbro and other rural electric cooperative officials traveled to Washington, D.C., in late April to present the information to the state’s Congressional delegation. Kimbro said the meetings were productive and noted Rep. Martha Roby has expressed a deep interest in changing some of the regulations to trigger faster deployment of broadband services to rural areas.