Image Source: Rome News-Tribune
Broadband expansion was an issue Georgia lawmakers were trying to tackle long before the pandemic hit, but now the problem is escalated to even higher proportions as Georgians need reliable internet access more than ever before. People’s lives were shifted online overnight as kids were sent home from school, doctor’s appointments were moved to video calls and all communication with the outside world had to be done online. This shift exposed the gap between those who had access and those who did not, with kids in parts of rural Georgia forced to go to local libraries or school parking lots to do their homework and turn in assignments.
Luckily, the Georgia General Assembly was already working on a bill that could bring broadband to thousands across the state if passed when lawmakers reconvene in Atlanta, HB 244. The bill would make it affordable for broadband providers to attach wire or cable to the state’s electric membership corporation’s poles, freeing up savings for broadband expansion to 35,000 homes and businesses. Comcast had already promised to spend $20 million on broadband deployment in rural Georgia if the attachment fees were reduced.
The lack of broadband access doesn’t just affect the lives of rural Georgians in their homes, but has caused rural development authorities headaches for years as they struggle to attract new businesses and retain existing ones. Jaeson Smith of the Tallapoosa Development Authority in Haralson County told the members of a state Senate committee in February, “We’ve had the issue of brain drain for the last 50 years, and it’s beginning to choke us,” he said. “We got to have internet. We got to have it a month ago.”
After passing in the House 116-44 in March, the bill will move to the Senate when lawmakers reconvene in June. If passed, thousands of unserved Georgians could get much-needed broadband access.