When it comes to local internet service — whether it’s fast, slow, somewhere in-between or nowhere to be found — stakeholders with the Clallam County Community Broadband Team want your input on what internet is available in your area.
The end result could be faster speeds, more accessibility and more options.
In recent weeks, team members held virtual meetings for residents in Sequim (Oct. 29), Port Angeles (Oct. 28) and Forks and the West End (Oct. 21), seeking input on internet speeds, struggles, expansion possibilities and more.
“We want more people to test and we want the number into the thousands; it would be very helpful,” said Tom Robinson, president/CEO of CBG Communications, a consulting firm with the broadband project.
So far, the Sequim area from Agnew to eastern Jefferson County has seen more than 400 survey responses with varying internet speeds.
Broadband Team members say those unable to take the speed test because of slow speeds can email to clallam firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know.
Karen Affeld, executive director of the North Olympic Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council, wrote in the virtual meeting that the speed test offers three options: enter your address, find the approximate addresses on a map, or enter an address that has no service available, which can be done on a cell phone or public internet access point.
“Identifying areas with no service available is important, so we really needpeopleto go to the site and enter their address (that) they don’t have service available,” Affeld wrote.
“The goal of this team is to create more options for our residents and businesses and improve services overall, but we’ve got a long way to go,” wrote Anthony Martin, the City of Sequim’s IT program manager, during the Sequim virtual meeting.
“Our current phase of the project is mapping service/speed levels in our area. That will hopefully provide opportunities for future build-outs.”
The Broadband Team revealed its eight goals that include working together with new and existing broadband providers, creating affordable access to broadband, and ensuring all businesses, educational outlets, medical professionals and first responders, and more entities have access and necessary tools for broadband access,
With the impact of COVID-19 causing many people to work from high and increase internet usage, Russ Elliott, director of the State Broadband Office through the Department of Commerce, told participants in the Oct. 29 meeting that they anticipate federal funds for broadband expansion to be high.
He’s also been in touch with trouble areas for connectivity such as Lost Mountain Road and Crescent.
“I’m confident with emerging technologies, we’re going to get there,” he said.
Once issues and connectivity gaps are discovered, Robinson said the Broadband Team’s next step would be to propose a potential infrastructure plan to fill those gaps while reviewing funding sources. It would go through a public comment process before a final report is developed as a strategic plan for 2021 and beyond.
Robinson said they’d think about a phased expansion of broadband, and there “probably isn’t much low hanging fruit in Clallam County” for simpler projects to be done first.
Sequim’s meeting hosted more than 50 people including residents, business owners, municipality leaders and more. They expressed a range of concerns, including connectivity across the area, bringing broadband to more rural areas, potential businesses’ concerns for broadband in the area, and internet affordability.
Randy and Roberta Larson of Lost Mountain said their internet has gotten worse in recent history and that in their area a hot spot (mobile internet) isn’t an option.
Photographer Keith Ross, who lives in eastern Clallam County, said his internet is “painfully slow to update software” and he ultimately cancelled his service because it was so sluggish.
Representatives with the Highland Hills homeowners association on Bell Hill said internet availability varies due to blockage of trees, and a high cost to put in cable.
Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush said the city’s Broadband Action Team had been meeting previous to the pandemic but because connectivity was so poor in some areas they couldn’t get everyone to meet remotely for virtual meetings.
Jennifer Maughan, assistant superintendent for Sequim School District, said they have multiple issues and that some of the biggest are getting children on the internet, and if they have internet ensuring they have the correct device to do school work.
“We’re working day and night to see what every family needs,” she said.
Beau Young, the Sequim School District’s information technology director, said since the pandemic hit the district has provided more than 400 computers to families to remotely learn from home.
He said one of the district’s challenges is having multiple sites with various connectivity issues.
“It’s a hodgepodge of solutions to get everyone connected,” Young said.
Peninsula College president Dr. Luke Robins said the school has some advantage in offering remote courses for several years while adapting to new demands.
However, he said, many of the college’s students face similar challenges as Sequim’s families in needing computers and internet access.
“For us it’s a real equity issue,” he said. “Students who are already challenged are further challenged by this environment with no consistent or no broadband access.”
He later said every student deserves equal access to the internet and that the college is looking at funding sources to help.
As an intermediary, multiple businesses and entities offer free wi-fi outside, such as the North Olympic Library System where officials say their four branches’ broadband is being accessed 24/7.
Jesse Parker, network engineer for Nikola Broadband, said there are “some very challenging locations in our area” because of thick landscaping over areas that would need to be dug up for fiber lines, and/or dense trees that prevent a line of sight for wireless internet.
However, Parker said his business continues to increase speeds as they upgrade their network as possible.
Some participants wondered if satellite internet could be good for the area rather than seeking expensive fiber expansion in the ground.
Broadband Team members said they continue to investigate all options and they’re following internet-by-satellite efforts on the West End.
“History would suggest there’s no one silver bullet solution for everyone,” Robinson said. “There really is a network of networks that needs to be developed is what may be what we find.”