The current pandemic has created plenty of uncertainties while also confirming what many local officials knew all along: a reliable internet connection is essential infrastructure for business, healthcare, education, agriculture and overall quality of life.
Of the 1.6 million Georgians who lack access to high-speed internet, a quarter live in rural areas. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) intends to change that by coordinating and establishing broadband programs to increase economic, education and social opportunities for Georgia residents and businesses.
Local governments can play an instrumental role in this process as Broadband Ready Communities. Applying for this designation demonstrates a willingness to reduce obstacles to broadband infrastructure investment, signals a municipality’s readiness to partner with broadband providers, promotes community planning and provides an opportunity to receive additional points for GBDI grants.
In 2020, Woodbury was the first city to earn the Broadband Ready Community Certification from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Out of the 11 Broadband Ready communities, only five are cities: Claxton, Dublin, Fitzgerald, Hiawassee and Woodbury. Deana Perry, executive director for Broadband at the DCA, issues a call to action for everyone else.
“Closing the digital divide in Georgia will take all stakeholders, public and private, working together,” she said. “I encourage municipalities to seek designation as a Broadband Ready Community and collaborate with regional partners to be better prepared for future investments.”
Has internet access been enhanced in other areas of the state?
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Pembroke Telephone Company Inc. will use a $4.6 million ReConnect Grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network. This network will connect 3,554 people, 73 farms and 19 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Evans and Tattnall counties in Georgia. In the prior ReConnect round, Pembroke Telephone Company was also awarded $4 million in ReConnect funds to build a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network in Evans County. According to USDA, the service area includes 964 households, 20 pre-subscribed farms and 15 pre-subscribed businesses. The city of Claxton and Evans County are both “Broadband Ready” and represent the first multi-jurisdictional recognition of this kind.
How can I see where service is available or unavailable?
The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) has maps located at broadband.georgia.gov, which illustrate the statewide challenges to internet access and also serve as a tool that enable stakeholders to make data-driven decisions regarding investment and broadband planning efforts. More than 5 million locations in Georgia’s 159 counties are represented, and more than 70% of unserved locations are in rural Georgia. Visit broadband.georgia.gov for more information.
What other technical assistance is available?
DCA’s Broadband Office provides technical assistance to Georgia communities looking to bring service to unserved areas. The GBDI team has developed tools to assist communities in broadband expansion efforts. Data-driven decision-making and public-private partnerships are key to solving the digital divide in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Therefore, the GBDI team can utilize the maps and data to provide specific information tailored to each community.
Examples of collaboration include:
- Identifying unserved homes and businesses
- Understanding the investment and cost of expansion
- Acting as a liaison between the community and the provider
- Identifying funding sources
- Designating Broadband Ready Communities
- Highlighting connectivity needs
- Identifying opportunities to leverage assets
Visit broadband.georgia.gov or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
For a list of additional agencies and resources for local governments, visit: georgia.gov/state-organizations and GMA’s Grants + Awards page at www.gacities.com.
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.