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When the pandemic forced thousands to work from home — for both business and school — large swaths of Santa Barbara County found their spotty internet service incredibly frustrating. The sudden influx of at-home internet users was more than the bandwidth could handle, resulting in poor internet connectivity for entire regions. To identify the areas most afflicted, the Broadband Alliance of Santa Barbara County wants residents to test their service.

The county Broadband Alliance launched an internet needs assessment survey and speed test campaign last Tuesday. It asks the public to run a simple test and report their internet experience and speed at home, work, and wherever they connect. The group intends to advocate for federal and state funding for better broadband internet, which is part of President Biden’s 2021 infrastructure bill.

Rural areas in the county experienced the worst of these connectivity issues, including the Santa Ynez Reservation. Sam Cohen, Government Affairs and Legal Officer of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, said the reservation had absolutely no internet service. He believes new fiber optic infrastructure should be wired in each home on the reservation, or that wireless internet should beam across the area in order for tribal members to gain internet access — an increasingly necessary utility.

The Broadband Alliance is made up of a variety of organizations, such as the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. SBCAG spokesperson Lauren Bianchi Klemann stressed that the Broadband Alliance’s goal is not to advocate for specific types of technology, but instead to increase infrastructure and affordability in the areas where internet access is not strong. 

The test measures download and upload speeds in megabits per second, or Mbps. The general rule of thumb is that anything 25 Mbps or higher is considered “fast” internet service, and 100 Mbps for broadband because it can connect to multiple devices at once. Current data from the alliance so far identifies that the worst connectivity exists in the northern part of the county, while the City of Santa Barbara has the greatest.

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