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Rural North County internet speeds don’t meet state standards

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Internet access doesn't just cost more in Northern San Luis Obispo County—it's also slower.

A San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) report released at the beginning of April found that the urban areas of SLO County meet the minimum speeds for the federal definition of broadband internet, "while moving away from the urban areas into the rural area shows diminishing speeds."

SLOW SPEEDS In this SLOCOG graph, the blue areas are those where the internet plans offered meet the California Speed Standard, while the red areas do not. Much of rural North County and the North Coast does not meet the standard. - GRAPH FROM SLOCOG REPORT
  • Graph From Slocog Report
  • SLOW SPEEDS In this SLOCOG graph, the blue areas are those where the internet plans offered meet the California Speed Standard, while the red areas do not. Much of rural North County and the North Coast does not meet the standard.

The northern regions of the county are also falling short of the California Speed Standard, which is higher than the federal broadband definition.

"The majority of blocks in the Central and South County meet the California Standard, while only the urban areas in the North Coast and North County meet the standard," the report stated.

Connecting to the internet is also more expensive the farther north a resident lives in SLO County. According to the SLOCOG report, broadband internet plans in South County ZIP codes start at $29.99, while plans in the North County start at $55 to $69.99, and parts of the North Coast are as high as $165.

Connectivity challenges were on full display during an April 5 Paso Robles City Council meeting, when the meeting's livestream went dark—ironically, during a staff presentation about broadband.

The cities of Paso Robles and Atascadero are working together to create a joint Broadband Strategic Plan, a partnership that the Paso Robles City Council unanimously formalized at its April 5 meeting. Atascadero's City Council is slated to vote on the same item next week.

Both cities will contribute funds toward creating the plan, which Paso Robles Economic Development Manager Paul Sloan said will bolster the cities' chances of securing state and federal funding.

A Broadband Strategic Plan would provide what Sloan called "gap analysis." This means "knowing where services are and aren't, knowing the speeds, so we know the needs specifically," he told New Times. "When we do make an ask, state and federal funding [sources] would be very interested to have an actual concrete plan in place, because we know what we're asking for."

Economically speaking, Sloan said, internet access is more important than ever, given how many people now work from home. The pandemic also paved the way for telemedicine, he added, which elderly populations in particular rely on.

"We don't want to exacerbate the digital divide," Sloan said. "It's not just about the economic side of it, but it's making sure that kids, families, everybody has access to it."

In February, the SLOCOG Board voted to develop a Broadband Action Plan for the entire SLO County region. Sloan said the North County plan would welcome collaboration with other partners.

"There are indeed other [broadband] conversations going on," Sloan said. "That's great, and if at some point they align, that's fantastic. Every community may have different sets of priorities, but I believe broadband is something that, at some level, is important to every community." Δ

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