Acknowledging the importance of community participation in collecting broadband data, the Nebraska Regional Officials Council (NROC) is asking individuals living in Nebraska and Pottawattamie and Mills counties in Iowa to participate in a new statewide initiative.
The recently launched Broadband Speed Test Initiative aims to close the digital divide by identifying gaps in internet service speeds. Data will be collected as residents test their speeds using an online tool available at speedtestne.org.
“As we have learned very clearly with the pandemic, where we have people working from home and children learning from home and four or five people on the same internet service at one time, more and more families have seen delays in their service,” said Shawnna Silvius, an economic development planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, one of the development districts of NROC participating in the initiative.
Businesses, she said, have also had challenges keeping their employees connected via web cloud platforms where they can share files while working remotely.
Although magnified by the pandemic, improving rural broadband isn’t a new discussion in Nebraska, or nationwide for that matter.
During the 2020 legislative session, Nebraska State Sen. Tom Brandt, in partnership with the Center for Rural Affairs, drafted and introduced Legislative Bill (LB) 996 to create the Broadband Data Improvement Program. The program involves community members in the process of validating internet access data and helps ensure the state is able to fully access federal broadband grant programs. That bill went on to receive unanimous approval from the Legislature and was signed into law last summer.
Its impact continues to grow.
This session, LB 388, prepared by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Speaker Mike Hilgers, relies on the Broadband Data Improvement Program as a primary tool when determining which areas of rural Nebraska should be eligible for broadband access funds. It, too, received unanimous approval by the Legislature and was signed into law in May.
Through the two-year speed testing initiative, NROC aims to provide a clearer view of the gaps in internet service, speeds, and access across the state. This work is especially important in rural areas, Silvius said.
“We really see a digital divide between the metropolitan area and the rural area,” she said. “Same with neighborhoods, with some served and some unserved.”
The speed test is a powerful tool, Silvius said, and the captured information will provide statistically sound data that can be used by communities, counties and key stakeholders as they plan for broadband infrastructure expansion or enhancement projects. That is why community participation is vital.
“We need people to do it and do it often,” Silvius said, adding that the process takes only a few minutes and can be done on home computers, cell phones, and other devices using internet service. No personal information will be collected.
The project is funded through a U.S. Economic Development Administration Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grant.
To learn more about the Nebraska Broadband Speed Test Initiative, watch our Rural Rapport below.