Ru­ral Ge­or­gians hope to fi­nally see faster In­ter­net speeds

The Standard Journal - - NEWS -

QUIT­MAN, Ga. — Ru­ral Ge­or­gians who have lived for years with slow in­ter­net ser­vice are look­ing to state law­mak­ers for help.

A pro­posal has emerged in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly that could bring broad­band ser­vice to ru­ral ar­eas, The Val­dosta Daily Times re­ported.

Statewide, at least 626,070 Ge­or­gians are with­out ac­cess to broad­band ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion. A prob­lem that many Polk County res­i­dents un­der­stand all too well.

The num­ber is prob­a­bly closer to 1.6 mil­lion Ge­or­gians who lack ac­cess to ad­e­quate broad­band, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs, which is map­ping ar­eas of the state.

The agency’s work so far re­veals a patch­work of coverage that is par­tic­u­larly thin in parts of mid­dle Ge­or­gia and south Ge­or­gia.

Across much of ru­ral Ge­or­gia, res­i­dents with lit­tle or no in­ter­net ser­vice are also cus­tomers of not-for-profit electric co­op­er­a­tives. The co­op­er­a­tives have been pro­vid­ing elec­tric­ity to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties na­tion­ally since the 1930s.

Near the Ge­or­gia-Florida line, Molly Rad­ford said she signed up for the fastest in­ter­net she could get in ru­ral Brooks County, where her fam­ily has owned farm­land for more than a cen­tury. But many of the speed tests on her com­puter have clocked crawl­ing speeds that barely even regis­ter.

For Rad­ford, that means that stream­ing or down­load­ing video is out of the ques­tion. She is able to log onto so­cial me­dia or check her email, as long as no one dares send her a photo.

“It’s just hard on ev­ery­body,” Rad­ford said. “And we look at other ar­eas of our state where they’re pay­ing less and get­ting a great deal more. It’s just very frus­trat­ing.”

“It’s just un­ac­cept­able in this day and age for the peo­ple of ru­ral Ge­or­gia to not have ba­sic ser­vice,” Rad­ford added.

The pro­posal be­ing de­bated in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly would al­low the electric co­op­er­a­tives — and some tele­phone co­op­er­a­tives — to pro­vide broad­band ser­vice, the Val­dosta news­pa­per re­ported.

The plan is seen by pro­po­nents as a way to bring broad­band ser­vice to more ru­ral Ge­or­gians.

A main pro­po­nent of the mea­sure, Repub­li­can Rep. Penny Hous­ton of Nashville, Ge­or­gia, is push­ing the idea this year with a sense of ur­gency. Hous­ton cites a loom­ing ap­pli­ca­tion dead­line for $600 mil­lion in fed­eral loans and grants for ru­ral broad­band.

Enabling the state’s 41 electric mem­ber­ship cor­po­ra­tions to en­ter the broad­band busi­ness would bol­ster Ge­or­gia’s case for claim­ing a share of that money, the Val­dosta news­pa­per re­ported. Mis­sis­sippi’s gover­nor signed a sim­i­lar mea­sure into law last week.

“It is very im­por­tant to ad­dress it and get this thing passed so EMCs can ap­ply for some fed­eral money,” Hous­ton said in an in­ter­view. “We send that money to Wash­ing­ton and we want it com­ing back, too.”

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