County and state officials want residents’ help in correcting a federal map of broadband access that is considered to be widely inaccurate but will nevertheless guide billions of dollars in federal grant funding nationwide.
The Federal Communications Commission map claims that Island County has 97% broadband coverage, which Commissioner Janet St. Clair characterized as “nuts.” A joint Island County and Port of Coupeville study, as well as anecdotal stories, show that large sections of Whidbey and Camano Island are without any or adequate broadband access.
It’s a critical issue for the county’s economy.
“More and more, we are an internet-connected world,” St. Clair said, “and nobody should be left behind.”
The new online map, available at broadbandmap.fcc.gov, allows users to enter an address and see if both fixed and mobile broadband are accessible. Residents who believe the information on the map is incorrect can submit a challenge online by clicking on either “location challenge” or “availability challenge” for both fixed and wireless broadband when the summary of internet access is displayed on the map.
The state Department of Commerce website also offers step-by-step instructions for people to understand and navigate the map and challenge process.
The state Department of Commerce estimates that as much as $900 million federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding might be at stake for Washington alone.
“We want Washington to be represented accurately on the FCC map,” Washington State Broadband Office Director Mark Visconi said in a Department of Commerce news release. “This is an opportunity for individual residents to let their voice be heard. It is also a time for organizations and government agencies to work together for Washington’s future.”
St. Clair explained that residents without broadband should make it clear if they offer a challenge that they’ve contacted specific providers and discovered that broadband service isn’t available at a reasonable cost.
The commissioner pointed out that Washington state adopted 100 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up as the standard to be considered broadband. Much of internet access in Island County doesn’t live up to that standard.
The common 25/3 speed, St. Clair said, “isn’t enough for the kids to watch Netflix while mom is on a Zoom meeting and a daughter is doing homework online.” She lives on Camano Island and sends her husband out of the house when she goes on Zoom or his internet use will crash her meeting.
St. Clair pointed out that the county study identified Central Whidbey, in the area of Ebey’s Prairie, as the most broadband-challenged in the county. In addition, swaths of North Whidbey, Greenbank and south Camano Island — where many rely on copper DLS, a three-decade-old technology — are without broadband access. Even some areas in the city of Oak Harbor don’t have affordable and speedy internet access.
St. Clair has been helping to lead the fight for broadband access in the county for years. It’s a crucial issue for a wide range of residents, she said, including businesses and farms that need adequate internet access for online commerce, students who need access for classes and homework, employees who work from home and patients who want to contact doctors through telehealth.