WEIRTON - A committee of the Brooke-Hancock Regional Planning and Development Council is working to extend higher speed Internet service to rural and other underserved areas of the two counties and needs the public's input to do it.
Members of the council's Rural Broadband Strategic Plan Project Team met Wednesday to discuss ways to encourage the public to complete an online survey aimed at determining areas where broadband Internet service isn't available.
The survey, which can be found online at www.regionalbroadbandsurvey.com, also asks each responder if any Internet service is accessible from their homes, how many residents of a household use the Internet and for what purposes, among other things, said Eric Sherrard, an engineer with Thrasher Engineering of Clarksburg, which is working with the council to develop a plan for the extension of broadband Internet service.
The council is among regional development councils throughout the state that have been charged by the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council to establish a strategic plan identifying areas of need and infrastructural projects to make broadband Internet service available.
Residents may submit their responses anonymously but are asked to include their ZIP code to help in identifying areas where service is needed, Sherrard said.
He added one aspect of the online survey, found separate surveys geared toward residents and businesses can be found at www.regionalbroadbandsurvey.com.
The site also includes a test that measures the speed at which participants were able to send their responses.
Broadband Internet service is able to convey data at faster speeds than the older, dial-up Internet access, and the state council also is asking state legislators to raise the minimum speed available through broadband Internet providers.
The Federal Communications Commission has suggested every American household by 2020 have an Internet speed of 4 megabits per second - enough to send and receive e-mail, download web pages and participate in video conferences.
Sherrard said Citynet, a Bridgeport, W.Va.,-based Internet provider, will offer technical expertise for the plan, which he said will be incorporated into a statewide plan that will help to determine how anticipated federal funds for Internet expansion will be used.
For now, members of the local committee want to show the need.
Rob Robinson, facilities supervisor for Brooke County Schools, said the county's school buildings have Internet access, but families of students in rural areas often lack the Internet, so they don't have access to such resources as Edline, where by using a code, they may access their children's grades.
Rik Rekowski, director of the Mary H. Weir Public Library, said about 16,000 patrons use the Internet through the library's computers each year and a growing number download e-books.
John Brown, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, of which the development council is an arm, said local business leaders have expressed a need for improved Internet service.
And Sherrard noted some residents may be interested in furthering their education at home through online courses. The committee has made plans to approach local, county and city officials for help in publicizing their effort and circulating cards bearing QR codes that can be used to access the survey using cell phones as well as other promotional materials at public places.
The group also includes representatives of Brooke and Hancock county schools who plan to distribute information.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)