Legislators say push is on for rural broadband

Pat Donahue/Times-EnterpriseMarvin Bryan of Pavo speaks with state Sen. Ellis Black, left, and state Rep. Darlene Taylor, right before the start of a meeting between legislators and local officials earlier this week.

THOMASVILLE — The push for rural broadband access is increasing, state lawmakers told a gathering of local elected officials earlier this week.

SB 2, passed and signed into law earlier this year, allows the 41 Electric Membership Co-operatives to provide broadband internet to rural areas.

“I don’t believe it is a complete solution,’ said state Rep. John LaHood (R-Valdosta) but it is a step in the right direction to help cover more of rural Georgia with high-speed internet. Without high speed internet, it puts businesses and families at a disadvantage. We’ll keep chipping away at that.”

State Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta) said the delivery of rural broadband likely will fall on organizations such as the EMCs.

“I think there is an opportunity for them if it is set up right,” he said.

However, the investment to deliver rural broadband will be significant, lawmakers pointed out. 

“The state will come up with what we can,” said state Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville). “But the state doesn’t have the trillions of dollars it would cost to put it everywhere.”

The EMCs may have to borrow money in order to build the infrastructure to bring broadband to the rural areas of Georgia, Taylor said. 

“It is a major investment,” she said. “It is going to take a push from the customers and the members of the community.”

Taylor said you can find children in McDonald’s using their internet access to complete their school work.

“In Thomas County, if you live out in the county and you don’t have internet, you’re behind the eight-ball,” she said. “It is an uphill battle.”

Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) said a friend of his had moved to a farm near Madison but began using a satellite internet provider and his speed was as good, if not better, than what he had experienced in Atlanta.

“That technology is coming,’ Burke said. “It is expensive. But it was not exorbitant.” 

LaHood noted that the final day for comments on SB 2 is November 2. Legislators also discussed what kind of impact the burgeoning 5G technology may have on the move to establish rural broadband access.

“You need that speed and access,” Taylor said. “That also will open the doors for businesses that can have a place to come to in a rural community. In some places, it’s so slow, a business couldn’t function.”

Lawmakers also said the community needs to push the EMCs to get into the rural broadband business. Taylor said an experimental program in north Georgia is having success.

“But it was a community that reached out and pushed for it,” she said.

“We will be finding a solution, in some way, shape or form, bringing broadband into our rural communities,” Taylor said. “I feel like we are almost in the same position we were in the 1930s when we had to bring electricity to rural communities.”

Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.

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