The Challenge: Understanding resident need around broadband access
In Augusta County, Virginia, a mountain topography and large geographical area of almost 900 square miles has meant different parts of the County have had vastly different experiences in internet connection. In many places, the distance across a small valley means one neighbor is connected, while another is not.
The need for improved internet was identified close to a decade ago, and in 2016, the County obtained its first planning grant for high speed internet. Yet with approximately eight internet providers serving the area, each with a different quality of service and none with an exact coverage map, the extent of that need has been difficult to pinpoint.
As the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw people shift to remote work and schooling, making reliable high speed internet access even more crucial, an opportunity for another grant arose: a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative Grant. For the 2022 grant round, County administrators needed to understand if the need for access to high speed internet that they had identified in 2016 and later years was still present, if so to what degree, and where in the County that need existed. Answers to these questions were important in applying for the grant.
The Zencity Solution: A community survey tackles the question
With the chance to secure another broadband internet grant on the line, the County decided to use a Zencity survey to gain a better understanding of its residents’ high speed internet needs within Augusta County.
With a survey designed and analyzed by Zencity and deployed by the County, the County was able to gather responses from 1,537 residents, learning about residents’ current internet availability and about the importance of internet to their work and quality of life. In addition, the County was able to gain a better understanding of where geographical coverage gaps remained.
The results were unequivocal: 99% of respondents said having internet access was important to them (with 91.9% describing internet access as “very important”). Yet 62% of respondents were unsatisfied with the current speed of their internet service, and only 25% of respondents had internet speeds that met the minimum recommendation by the Federal Communications Commission. Furthermore, the survey analyzed responses by city and zip code within the County, showing in which geographical areas high speed internet was missing.
The Impact: A state grant is secured to increase coverage
The County applied for a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative Grant and used the results of the survey to show where high speed internet coverage was lacking. Along with other counties in the area, Augusta County was granted the funding requested, which will connect 6,000 homes in the County and 37,000 homes in the region over the next three years, providing coverage to close to 100% of residents.
Questions and analysis from the Zencity report on internet access in Augusta County, VA
1. How important is internet access to you/your workplace?
Virtually all (99%) of respondents assigned some degree of importance to having internet access.
2. How do you access the internet at your current location?
3. What is the speed of your current internet connection?
Less than a quarter (24%) had access to internet speeds greater than 25Mbps—the minimum speed recommended by the Federal Communications Commission.
4. How satisfied are you with the current speed of connection?
Running a Zencity survey was particularly helpful to us—especially compared to surveys we’ve run in the past—because having a third party design the questions and analyze the results ensured the analysis was unbiased, therefore lending greater authority to the results.
Deputy County Administrator Augusta County, VA