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State broadband survey could help fund local infrastructure

SALISBURY – A statewide survey is trying to identify where there is need for high speed internet.

The North Carolina Broadband Survey, an ongoing project of the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office, is trying to drive participation in the survey so it can understand the availability and quality of internet connections across the state.

The results will identify places throughout the state where broadband access is inadequate or nonexistent. The survey will help direct funding to those areas to improve service.

Broadband Infrastructure Office Executive Director Jeff Sural said the state used federal data in the past to cover some areas that were underserved. But federal data still misses out on some people who still do not have adequate service.

Sural said the federal government will accept crowd-sourced data from states to help direct funding. The state created a scaled back survey similar to this a few years ago, but it ran into issues with inaccuracies in the third-party speed test it used at the time.

Sural said it may help secure funding for a particular area if more people participate.

“It gives us more data,” Sural said. “This is just one source of data to give us a better understanding of what’s going on on the ground.”

Every county in the state has some issues. In the case of Rowan, Sural pointed to the northeastern reaches — where there are large areas which remain unserved. Survey responses so far have been confirming that.

“Just looking at the map now, there are a bunch of dots with no service or very poor service,” Sural said on a virtual call this week.

Sural said people with inadequate access are out of job opportunities, educational opportunities, civic engagement and access to health care.

He described broadband as a market-based industry. As a result, it can be a tough proposition for a private company to find solutions for fast internet to an area with too few customers to justify the cost. A number of grant programs have been put in place to offset those costs for companies.

The state’s survey is available online, but people without service can take it by phone or by accessing public internet somewhere like Rowan County Library branches.

The department wants to get to 500,000 responses to the survey. It went live last summer, but underwent troubleshooting before the department started advertising it recently. Now it is working with counties, councils of government, other stakeholder groups and media outlets to let people know it is available.

Visit ncbroadband.gov/broadband-nc/north-carolina-broadband-survey to take the survey online. The department asks people take the online survey from their homes if possible. To take the survey by phone, text or call 919-750-0553.

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