‘Our one shot to get funding’

Rural residents urged to challenge internet accessibility by April 14


Seward County is urging residents to check their internet speeds to see if they’re really getting what they’re paying for – if they can even access internet service at all.

The urgency is part of the Nebraska Broadband Challenge, an initiative to disperse $405 million in federal funding to Nebraska counties to improve internet access, especially in rural areas where a lack of connectivity makes it difficult for people to work online, access services like telehealth and complete basic tasks like sending or receiving emails.

Residents have just under two weeks left – until April 14 – to submit a challenge.

The problem is that the Federal Communications Commission map of addresses that have adequate internet access is incorrect.

It shows residents having access to service when they really don’t, or that they have higher download and upload speeds than they’re actually getting from their internet companies.

Residents have the chance to say, “No, that isn’t accurate,” and correct the map through a challenge process.

Every challenge will help bring more money to Seward County to boost access and speed in those areas that are completely unserved or underserved with low speeds.

As of March 28, Seward County residents had submitted 17 formal challenges in parts of the county where internet is unavailable, unreliable or extremely slow.

“We have some maps of where our pain points are in the county,” said Jonathan Jank, president and CEO of the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership, who works with the Seward County Broadband Task Force.

Jank said the 17 challenges are a good start, but the county needs more participation from residents in order to have a chance at fixing the connectivity issues.

“We need your feedback very specifically because these are the areas we’re seeing that are not being served,” he said. “This is our one shot to get funding that we may never get again.”

Along with the challenges already received, the county has qualified two census blocks for verification.

A census block is a large area containing roughly 1,500 residents. There are 11 census blocks in Seward County.

That means an internet provider has received at least six challenges from each of those two blocks.

Those providers are now required to verify their accessibility and speed for the entire census block.

“They’re the ones who have to prove that they’re serving at the speeds they say they are to at least 80% of those residences,” Jank said.

Jacob Jennings, vice president of the SCCDP and Seward County’s certified advocate for submitting the challenges, said the two census blocks already challenged are positioned from Interstate 80 north and east of Seward, and north of Seward around Staplehurst.

Jank said everyone should take a speed test, even if their connection is decent or they live in a well-served municipality.

“We want everybody to have confidence that they’re getting what they’re paying for,” he said.

Jank said it does not matter what type of service a resident has – fiber, DSL, cable, or others – they can still test their speed to make sure it matches the speed for which their provider is charging.

Jennings said so far, all of the challanges have been based on availability rather than speed.

That means the FCC’s broadband map shows those homes or businesses as having internet access, when in reality, they don’t.

Those wishing to submit an availability challenge must contact Jennings by April 14 when the statewide challenge window closes.

Those wishing to challenge their reported speed must begin the process by April 12, as three speed tests are needed over three days as evidence.

Residents in areas with questionable internet should receive a postcard in the mail with more information about the challenge process and how they can participate.

Additional information specific to Seward County, as well as the steps to complete the challenge are available at https://sewardfast.info.

However, residents must submit their challenges through Jennings as the county’s certified advocate. The FCC will not accept challenges from individual residents.

Jennings may be reached at jacob@cultivatesewardcounty.com or (402) 643-4189.