Data will be key to securing grants and funding county broadband
RISON — The Accelerate Cleveland County Broadband Committee is launching a countywide online survey this week to get a true reading of broadband speeds in the county. The data collected will be used to seek grants and other investments to improve service throughout the county.
The survey is coordinated by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the Accelerate Arkansas program. Surveys will continue to be accepted until September. Organizers hope to get several hundred surveys, if possible, to provide a true sample of internet speeds in the county.
While high-speed fiber optic cable is currently installed in Rison and Kingsland, the Accelerate Cleveland County committee is looking to expand fiber optic service beyond these city limits and throughout the county.
Accelerate Cleveland County is part of the Accelerate Arkansas Project, which is an initiative launched by the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition, a group of more than 15 state organizations committed to expanding Internet access. The group was created to help support state and local communities plan and secure the federal funds needed to expand access and ensure high-speed Internet is more accessible and affordable.
Respondents are asked to use the device they usually use to access the internet (laptop or desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc.) and also use the connection they usually use to access to the Internet (telephone company, satellite, hot spot, cellular signal, etc.). The survey aims to accurately document how people access the Internet in Cleveland County and what kind of speeds they get.
To take the survey, go online to https://uark.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2fvt7RZACFlW4WG
Accelerate Cleveland County also launched a Facebook page where residents can access the survey.
There is also a QR code found on an ad in this issue of the Herald that will allow people to access the survey via a smart phone or other device capable of reading QR codes.
One of the issues the Cleveland County committee noticed early on was that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) map used by the government and granting agencies to determine where high-speed internet is available did not provide a picture. specifies actual speeds within the county. Talent said the map shows most of the county has internet download speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), which he says isn’t accurate based on speed tests in those areas.
Currently, the FCC’s fixed broadband speed benchmark is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. However, FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel suggested in July that the new minimum be increased to 100 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload to increase Internet usage in the future.
Nicolas Aguelakakis, senior economic adviser for the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Broadband Office, said the FCC maps are disputed for their accuracy and an effort is underway to make the maps more accurate.
He explained that the map is based on information provided to the FCC by the internet service provider. If a single location within a “census block” (a geographic region within the county or city) receives 100 Mbps service, then the entire census block is labeled as having 100 Mbps service.
During the 2020 COVID pandemic, the Arkansas Broadband Service Office conducted a voluntary survey to test statewide internet speeds. According to a map posted on the agency’s website, 81 locations in Cleveland County responded to the survey. Of these respondents, 55 (68%) had speeds below 10 Mbps; 21 (26%) had 10 to 20 Mbps; four (4%) had 20-25 Mbps; and two (2 percent) had 50-85 Mbps
The two locations reporting the highest speeds (50-85 Mbps) appeared to be from businesses based on their location on the map.
The Accelerate Cleveland County Broadband Committee has met weekly for the past five weeks to develop a strategy to improve broadband service throughout Cleveland County.
Pleasant Ridge Community Justice of the Peace Donnie Herring and Rison Area Herald Britt Talent Editor/Publisher are co-chairs of the committee. Other committee members include Judge Bruce Brown of the Pansy area, County Judge Melody Spears of New Edinburg, County Clerk Jimmy Cummings of the Mt. Carmel community, John Appleget and Stephen McClellan of the Rison area. and subdivision developer Bracy Young of Rye.
Bruce Grubb of Cleveland County Telephone, a local Internet service provider, is also on the Accelerate Cleveland County committee.
Talent said the mission of the Accelerate Arkansas program is to provide fast, reliable Internet service at an affordable cost to areas of the state that currently have high-speed broadband access. Cleveland County was one of five communities in the state selected for the initiative.
One of the Accelerate Arkansas training sessions focused on developing a vision for each of the communities participating in the program. The Cleveland County Committee has proposed the following vision statement: “To establish fiber optic broadband service providing a minimum of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload to every home and business in Cleveland County at a price affordable to improve commerce, entrepreneurship, education, healthcare, communication, recreation and other opportunities.
After learning that the new standards could be increased to 100 Mbps download, Talent said the committee decided to include those speeds in the vision statement to match the possible new federal standard. He said the committee also consulted with the local internet service provider to verify that these speeds would be possible if fiber optic cable was installed throughout the county.
Convened by Heartland Forward, the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition behind the Accelerate Arkansas program is made up of nonprofits, advocacy organizations, thought leaders, and philanthropic organizations, including the Arkansas Black Mayors Association, Arkansas Community Foundation, Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Impact Philanthropy, Communities Unlimited, Diamond State Networks, Forward Arkansas, Holman Strategies, Runway Group, University of Arkansas-Department of Communication, Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Winrock International and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.