Volunteers needed for Internet speed test in Nevada

Pershing County residents are asked to take part in a regional Internet speed test to help community leaders seize government money available to conquer the rural digital divide.

The test takes less than a minute and could lead to better access to online education, business loans and healthcare according to Don Vetter of the Western Nevada Development District. But, more statistics are needed to compete for federal money designated for broadband projects.

“The first step in regional planning and stakeholder outreach efforts is that more data is needed to discern areas that are in need of reliable, affordable access to broadband service,” Vetter said. “The Nevada Speed Test is counting on fellow Nevadans to pinpoint those locations by logging on to www.nevadaspeedtest.org, a mapping tool that measures internet speeds.” 

According to WNDD, the Nevada Speed Test can be done on any device with an internet or cellular connection, takes less than a minute and personal information is “not collected.” But, the test requires a physical address or, if the person is concerned about privacy, a partial address. Participants can almost immediately see test results including download and upload speeds. 

Participants can also view a state-wide map of speed tests collected so far across Nevada. In the Lovelock area, as of last week, 53 AT&T Services customers that participated in the speed test had average download speeds of 6.10 Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 1.94 Mbps. The highest internet speed mapped so far in Lovelock was 92.71 Mbps download and 92.95 Mbps upload thanks to the Nevada System of Higher Education.

In the Reno/Sparks area, 112 AT&T Services customers had average download speeds of 127.49 Mbps and average upload speeds of 133 Mbps. 

Participants are encouraged to take the test more than once during the year-long project to “capture variations in internet speeds and collect more statistically valid data.”

WNDD officials said internet access is a “top priority issue” especially in rural areas.

“Distance learning and telemedicine were severely challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of poor connectivity. Potential economic development, access to small business support and diversification are limited as a result of inadequate broadband.”

Speed test results could help rural government leaders get federal funds for community broadband projects. The American Rescue Plan could provide $100 million to Nevada for broadband projects and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill could send another $300 to $400 million but the state will decide how that money is distributed.

After years of discussion, local leaders are eternally optimistic that the local internet will improve. The speed test map could help illustrate Nevada’s rural/urban internet divide.

“This speed test and mapping initiative will also provide information so that we can be more competitive in grant applications,” said WNDD Vice President Heidi Lusby-Angvick, who is also Executive Director of the Pershing County Economic Development Authority (PCEDA).

Lusby-Angvick has said she’s pleased with the speed and reliability of the wireless broadband at her city hall office provided by Sky Fiber Internet. One test on the speed test map shows Sky Fiber provided a high download speed of 79.16 Mbps and an upload speed of 40.68 Mbps.

Vetter confirmed the importance of the internet speed test map for rural communities and small businesses that need government access such as SBA (Small Business Administration) loans.

“During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband connectivity has been revealed as a cornerstone to business resiliency, education opportunities, financial literacy, access to employment and healthcare through telemedicine,” he explained. “WNDD and its partners want to tap into the ARPA money and the Infrastructure Bill dollars that are designated for broadband and this is a tool that will help make that happen in a competitive landscape.”

According to the FCC, broadband provides a minimum of 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds. Broadband internet can be delivered by fiber optic cables, wireless transmission, coaxial cables, DSL (copper phone lines) and communication satellites.

Online gaming, HD video streaming and downloading large files “eat up the most bandwidth” so broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps are recommended. For streaming music, internet surfing and video conferencing, 25 Mbps and above is adequate according to www.verizon.com. 

As for alternatives to costly fiber optic cable networks, local officials may want to consider wireless broadband technologies such as something called “TV White Space” that “could be a key to connecting millions of Americans” according to www.wififorward.org.

“Remember flipping on an analog TV and noticing static in between the television channels? That’s exactly what leading technology and wireless companies are looking to put to use in an effort to deliver fast reliable internet connectivity to millions of Americans who currently lack high speed broadband access.”

In more technical jargon, the website explains that TV White Space (TVWS) is “the unused gaps between active TV channels in the VHF and UHF spectrum bands.”

“Over the past decade, several studies have concluded that this unused spectrum buffer could be repurposed to beam broadband to communities while operating harmoniously with broadcast television channels...Rural communities often lack quality broadband as Internet Service Providers find it difficult and costly to connect sparsely populated rural areas. White space technology stands to help provide connectivity to these areas by utilizing a low power frequency that is able to penetrate obstacles such as mountainous terrain and heavily wooded regions.”