Lawmakers Seek Options To Boost Rural Broadband Connectivity in Georgia

Published by Georgia Public Broadcasting (NPR station) on February 19, 2019
by Stephen Fowler 

Lawmakers are looking at ways to improve internet access across Georgia, especially in rural parts of the state.

There are a number of bills filed this session that address different pieces of infrastructure and regulation and could expand coverage, but the first one to make its way through the process is HB 23.

The bill would allow electric membership cooperatives to sell internet to the customers it currently sells electricity to, providing access to some places and competition to others.

It would be a welcome bill in Cairo, where Laura Register’s call dropped the first time we spoke. The quailty of her connection is spotty, and when her internet goes down, she would have to leave town to get connected.

“Thomasville would be the closest, or Tallahassee,” she said. “And that would be 20 to 30 minutes to get somewhere where I could get reliable service.”

But the issue of internet access is not limited to places off the beaten path in southwest Georgia.

Lawrence Saul lives in Oconee County, fewer than 20 miles south of Athens. His subdivision has about 250 families and only one choice for internet with inconsistent speeds. If that doesn’t work, Saul says the closest place to publicly access wifi is about 9 miles away at a Starbucks.

Register, Saul, and other Georgians across the state could stand to benefit from HB 23 because they’re in areas served by EMCs, so in places where service is nonexistent or not dependable, the EMCs could use their existing infrastructure to close the gap.

The bill is currently in the Senate committee process.

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