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Rural residents applaud broadband expansion as rollout begins in earnest

By David Pendered

The rollout of broadband in rural Georgia is spurring comments of happiness and hope, and a sense of urgency, on Facebook posts from individuals who see the 21st century arriving at their door in the form of a new cable.

‘It might not look like much at this point, but it feels a bit like a birthday celebration to us!’ This was the caption Central Georgia EMC posted about rolls of fiber network materials as they arrived at a warehouse. Credit: facebook.com/centralgeorgiaemc

A random sampling shows:

  • “So excited in Yatesville!!! Please come soon!!!” – Sabrina Gayhart
  • “So excited in Barnesville!!!” – Courtney Mcdaniel
  • “Please come down Godfrey Road in Putnam Co. We are desperate.” – Shawn Humphrey Davis
  • “Jenkinsburg rd time line we r tired of paying outrageous fee for internet and it’s lousy too.” – Pat Davis [Jackson area]
  • “I work from home, so I can’t wait to get rid of AT&T”. — Tray Roberson [Sandersville area].”

These folks have shared their thoughts on the Facebook page of their local electric membership cooperative. Electric co-ops have supplied electricity for more than 80 years in rural communities that created them to deliver power – and now broadband – in areas that were too remote, or sparsely populated, for an investor-owned utility to serve.

This year is the start of Georgia’s big push to provide broadband across Georgia. An impasse ended in December, 2020 when the Public Service Commission, at the behest of the Legislature, set a rate structure for broadband companies to string wires on poles owned and maintained by EMCs. Gov. Brian Kemp this year has announced the new service areas in a steady stream of statements posted on the broadband homepage maintained by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Patty Bentley

State Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Butler) touched on these issues in an April 27 statement from Kemp’s office. The new project is a fiber-to-the-home network that will bring broadband to 4,800 residences in central Georgia. Bentley has worked to promote economic development through service as chair of the Economic Development/Transportation Committee for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, and as co-founder of the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce, according to her House bio. Bentley observed of the incoming broadband:

  • “Today’s announcement proves that when people work together and put service above self, anything is possible. Thanks to Middle Georgia EMC and Conexon Connect, our children, parents, and businesses will have the same opportunities that high speed-internet affords their peers in other areas of the state.”

On their Facebook pages, some of the providers reciprocate the personal connection with their clients.

Consider Tri-GoCo, serving the city of Gray, the seat of Jones County. Tri-GoCo is the internet service provider of the Tri County Electrical Membership Cooperative and the top item on its Facebook page advertises an add-on device to control what children can browse on line. The company also offers tries to entertain readers with quips, including:

  • “How do trees get on the internet? They log on.
  • “Why don’t horses use the internet? They can’t find stable connections.
  • “What could be better than the gift of high-speed internet? Happy Father’s Day from the Tri-CoGo Team!”
Georgia broadband

The colors mark broadband service availability. Orange areas have service, beige areas don’t have service, the blue area shows were an area has asked DCA to alter the designation. File/Credit: broadband.georgia.gov

These connections are the result of concerted effort by Georgia’s leadership to devise a method to deliver internet service in rural Georgia. The push in recent years has included efforts by Kemp; House Speaker David Ralston, who has focused his administration on helping residents of rural Georgia remain on their ancestral homeland; the Legislature, and the PSC.

Ralson’s work on rural Georgia recognizes that economic development is dependent on access to high speed internet. Industries that may be attracted to rural areas, such as warehouses and manufacturing, still need to communicate via internet. That’s not always possible in a state where 30% of the population doesn’t have broadband access.

To pick a county at random, Twiggs County, southeast of Macon, is served by I-16 – the main corridor between the Port of Savannah and the population centers in Macon, Atlanta and farther inland. Any potential industry may think twice after learning that only 33% of Twigg’s residents have broadband, according to a figure provided by the state’s interactive broadband map. The shortage of service could be a deal breaker for a potential employers.

Ralston emphasized his focus on rural broadband during his presentation in January at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast, sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Ralston outlined the work of the House Rural Development Council and observed:

  • “On broadband, which I believe is so foundational to many things we’re looking at, such as business, education, health care and infrastructure, we’ve got work yet to do on high speed broadband and we’re going to continue to focus on that and make it a real priority of the House.”
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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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