Williston pushes for faster internet

Williston City Hall.
Williston City Hall.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The city of Williston has collected over 100 survey responses about internet quality as part of its effort to improve the availability of high-speed internet. 

The survey includes an internet speed test for Williston citizens, which will help the city demonstrate interest and need. Williston City Manager Terry Bovaird said the survey data is part of getting “shovel ready” to make the city a good candidate for a grant. 

Williston has been promoting the survey for months and will leave it open for two or three more weeks, but Bovaird said the project has been underway for over a year. 

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“When we find people that are parked next to our library to get on the internet because it has high-speed internet, there is something wrong with that picture,” Bovaird said in a phone interview. “We are not getting served the level that we should be, and that takes the city government stepping in and pushing that process along… I just want to make sure that we can get better products for the people that live and work here.” 

State grants are offered as matching grants for municipalities, but the same grants do not require a match from internet provider companies. While Williston does have internet providers, Bovaird said their speeds are closer to 20 megabits per second (Mbps) downloading and 3 Mbps uploading. Bovaird’s goal is to get the whole city to 100 Mbps downloading and 50 Mbps uploading. 

“That is the kind of speed that you need today to operate in the real world,” Bovaird said. “So we are either not served, or definitely an underserved community when it comes to high-speed internet.” 

Bovaird said he believes high-speed internet has the power to separate people into “haves” and “have-nots,” purely by its availability. Those with slow internet have difficulties using telehealth, selling products online or conducting any other internet or remote business. 

A few years ago, Williston received a grant for over $100,000 to bring fiber internet to city properties. Now the city is pushing to expand better coverage to all citizens. 

Bovaird said he hopes for one of two outcomes from the survey: either it makes Williston “shovel-ready” enough to get a grant and provide its own internet, or it shows existing providers that there is a market for better internet in the city, prompting them to improve their services. 

If Williston becomes its own internet provider, Bovaird said the challenge will be making sure it stays competitive with existing rates while also covering its own cost. 

“Obviously we want the citizens to be able to have high-speed internet, the question is doing it where we need to get some return on our investment, or at the very least, we break even,” Bovaird said. 

For Williston residents, click here to access the survey.  

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