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02/12/2014
W.Va. Internet speeds well below state standards, survey shows

By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Less than one of three West Virginians who took an online survey last year had an Internet speed that met the state's minimum standard for broadband service.

The survey also showed customers in West Virginia's rural communities have significantly slower Internet speeds on average than those who live in urban areas.

"The report clearly shows that West Virginia has significant broadband challenges," said Jim Martin, a Citynet executive who serves on the state Broadband Deployment Council, which reviewed the survey results Wednesday. "There's a significant digital divide between our rural citizens and those who live in larger markets."

Frontier Communications, West Virginia's largest Internet provider, had the slowest broadband speeds, according to an online survey.

Frontier also was the only Internet provider whose average speed didn't meet West Virginia's minimum broadband standard, according to the survey of more than 5,000 people who took part in an online "speed test" on the Broadband Deployment Council's website last year.

"I would argue [Frontier] is falsely advertising if they claim their product and classify it as broadband," said Martin, whose Bridgeport-based company competes against Frontier for business customers.

Frontier executive Dana Waldo said Wednesday 84 percent of the company's 200,000 customers in West Virginia have broadband service that meets or exceeds the state minimum standard -- a download speed of 4 megabits per second.

Waldo, who also serves on the Broadband Deployment Council, criticized the survey, saying customers with slow Internet speeds were more likely to take the online test because they're dissatisfied with their broadband service.

Twenty-eight percent of people's "speed tests" were equal to or faster than the state standard.

"These are self-reported," Waldo said. "You can't make a blanket statement out of one statistical number. You have to look beyond the raw numbers."

Waldo said Frontier is the only company mentioned in the survey that provides Internet service to large numbers of customers in West Virginia's rural areas, where speeds are typically slower.

The Internet providers with the fastest speeds in the online survey -- Comcast and Suddenlink -- primarily serve urban and suburban areas.

"I would be cautious to compare a very urban, dense company against a very rural company that has first generation numbers in there," Waldo said.

Martin said survey results were "100 percent accurate." "You can't manipulate the results," he said.

According to the survey, Comcast Cable had the fastest average download speed at 13.36 megabits per second (mbps), followed by Suddenlink (12.21 mbps), Hardy Telecommunications (7.94 mbps), WVNET (5.19 mbps), and Lumos Networks (4.99 mbps). Frontier trailed with an average download speed of 1.93 megabits per second.

Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill that set 4 megabits per second as the minimum download speed standard for broadband.

"This clearly shows, in our more urban areas where we have competition and cable providers, we are meeting or exceeding the definition of broadband," Martin said. "But when we look at rural areas, where there's only one provider [Frontier], we're clearly not providing broadband that meets the definition. They didn't even get halfway."

The Internet "speed test" survey results were included in an 11-page report released at Wednesday's Broadband Deployment Council meeting.

"Residents are generally dissatisfied with Internet speed, cost, access and reliability," the report states. "...Both residents and businesses are dissatisfied with competition and choices in the broadband marketplace, and in most areas, respondents cited only one or two providers to choose from."

The report concludes that more must be done to promote the benefits of subscribing to broadband in West Virginia.
 

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