The Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance recently began its wi-fi study, hoping to bring better internet connectivity to rural areas in southern Ector County and West Odessa.
“The original intent was the Odessa Development Corporation was looking to help improve the southern area of Ector County along the I-20 corridor,” MOTRAN Vice President Dustin Fawcett said. “In the past it’s kind of been an underserviced part of the community.”
MOTRAN is sending out surveys to residents in the area to gather data about residents’ current internet service. This includes questions regarding what type of service they have now, if any, what their current internet speed is like, download speeds and what they mainly use the internet for.
James Beauchamp, MOTRAN president, said the survey was originally centered around just south Ector County, but it was expanded to West Odessa to make it more favorable for broadband companies.
“Cell phone businesses are constantly looking for underserved markets, so this is pretty attractive to them to fill those gaps,” Beauchamp said. “If you’re in Ector County, God help you if nothing else you can at least get a cell phone signal.”
The survey is being done in partnership with Connected Nation, who will send the survey to broadband providers once it is completed.
“The people we’re working with have connections to a lot of these broadband companies where anytime they finish a report it goes out to those providers,” Fawcett said. “Hopefully they’ll see this is a booming economy and say ‘maybe we can get in there and serve this niche market.’”
About 1,000 mailers have been sent out so far, Fawcett said. They are hoping to receive at least 600 responses, and have received about 200 so far. Fawcett said they hope to complete the study in July, with a report ready in September or October.
MOTRAN’s job in this is just to provide the information. It will be up to the ODC to look at how they fill that void, whether it be through seeking additional broadband providers in the area, or possibly looking at the option of public wi-fi, be it throughout the city or just in certain areas like parks.
ODC Board Member Gene Collins said he has been a proponent of public wi-fi for several years.
“I think it would enhance the quality of life in so many ways–emergency services, academics and just so many other ways,” Collins said. “It will bring us in line with a lot of the more progressive cities that put a lot of emphasis on education.”
With public wi-fi access, Collins said places in south or West Odessa like churches could become places for study halls or labs.
One possible concern with public wi-fi, Beauchamp said, is security, as other people could create fake wi-fi signals for people to connect to and possibly have their information stolen.
ODC Chairwoman Betsy Triplett-Hurt said she didn’t know enough at this point whether she would consider public wi-fi, but said she would love to hear MOTRAN’s recommendations.
“We want to know what it will take to have wi-fi in that area,” Triplett-Hurt said.