TOCCOA, Ga. – A joint study committee made up of 10 members of the Georgia House and Senate is on a fact-finding mission to find out how to bring high-speed broadband Internet to the rural areas of Georgia.
The Joint High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for all Georgians Study Committee held the second in a series of meetings Thursday on the Curahee campus of North Georgia Technical College.
State Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega ) said, “If we’re going to continue to bring in new companies into the state of Georgia, especially into the rural areas, we’ve got to have adequate infrastructure. It’s just as important today to have adequate broadband access as it is to have adequate water and sewer infrastructure. We’re just not getting what we need now.”
Studies have shown that about 20 percent of the U.S. population does not have access to broadband Internet. The problem is not a lack of providers. It is that most private providers say it does not make financial sense to lay expensive broadband infrastructure to serve very few people.
Business leaders from as far away as Royston attended the meeting and shared stories about how a lack of broadband access had impacted their businesses. Educational leaders like Franklin County School Superintendent Wayne Randall said lack of access has also deprived students of valuable learning opportunities.
“For years and years, we as a school system have prided ourselves on being a socioeconomic equalizer that provides an education no matter where you come from, where you live, what you have or what you don’t have,” he said.
But, he pointed out that today, brick and mortar schools aren’t the only place students learn. Modern education relies heavily on Internet connectivity where students can do research and access advanced classes. Randall said that students have that access while they are at school, but not necessarily at home.
“There are large spots in Franklin and Stephens counties where there is no connectivity at all and that makes it impossible for students who live in those areas to have an equal educational opportunity. What I don’t want to see happen is like back in the old days when you had a division between the haves and the have nots. I don’t want to see that gap widen.”
David Raynor, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, recommended eliminating the tax on broadband providers and the imposition of local permitting fees.
He said the state had invested more than $20 million to develop broadband and he produced some loud groans of displeasure from some members of the committee when he said that in 20 years, “Georgia has gone from no connectivity to now covering 97 percent of the population.”
State Rep. Susan Holmes (R-Monticello) pounced on the comment.
“When you indicate the state of Georgia is 97 percent covered by broadband, that is simply not correct.” Holmes said. She added that representatives at both the Georgia Technology Authority and the Carl Vincent Institute of Government at the University of Georgia strongly disagree with the Chamber’s numbers.
“The Carl Vincent Institute who I have tons of confidence in has a problem with your figures being overstated,” Holmes said. “The Georgia Chamber and the Georgia Public Policy Institute have got to get out into rural Georgia to understand what we are dealing with.”