Broadband authority gets snapshot of county coverage

The Orange County Broadband Authority got a good look last week at citizen internet speed survey results. Areas pictured in shades of red indicate unsatisfied or completely unsatisfied service speeds. Green areas indicate where citizens are satisfied with their service.

A month into the county’s broadband coverage survey, some fairly predictable trends have emerged. Ultimately, those trends will be part of a county grant application to bring high-speed internet to some of its most underserved areas. 

In a report to the Orange County Broadband Authority last week, county GIS analyst Jim Whipp said more than 400 citizens had participated in the survey since it was launched May 22.

The citizen-driven survey is helping Whipp and broadband program manager Lewis Foster get a better handle on where signals are strongest or non-existent.

They expect to leverage those results from the survey to apply for a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant, created to supplement construction costs by private sector broadband service providers in partnership with localities to extend service to underserved citizens.

The grant is issued through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which will award $19 million in the 2020 fiscal year.

Foster feels Orange County’s application will be viewed favorably for funding, particularly with the right private sector partner.

Grant applications are due in September.

In the meantime, the county is collecting data from citizens about their internet access.

“We’re starting to see data support the things we hypothesized,” Whipp told the broadband authority. By using mapping technology through the county’s geographic information system (GIS) he’s able to illustrate much of the county (based on survey responses) is unsatisfied with its internet service (54%) or completely unsatisfied (26%). The balance—clustered around the county’s three primary population centers—is less satisfied with their service (14%) or satisfied (6%).

Thus far, District 1 residents have submitted the most surveys (110). The overarching theme in the county’s westernmost district is generally one of dissatisfaction with internet service, Whipp reported. “As you move closer to the towns of Orange and Gordonsville, the responses become more positive,” he said.

In District 2, mapping responses illustrates anticipated results with an absence of coverage along Route 522 south of Unionville toward Lake Anna.

Of the 51 District 3 residents who participated, those in the Town of Orange or along Route 20 were fairly satisfied with their service, but citizens in the largely rural swath of the district north of town and east to Route 522 generally were unsatisfied.

District 4 survey results (78) illustrated “minimal coverage,” Whipp said, except for areas surrounding Lake of the Woods or in the Somerset Farms subdivision.

Not surprisingly, the most positive coverage feedback came from within District 5—the smallest geographic district, largely comprised of the Lake of the Woods community.

“As we get more data, these maps will change, but this is a good snapshot one month into the survey,” Whipp told the authority.

Broadband authority chair Jim White was pleased with the dispersion of responses across the county.

“This should help us tell a good story to VATI and our other partners,” he noted.

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