A panel of state lawmakers in Atlanta is hearing the complaints loud and clear: in a lot of rural communities, internet access is really poor. They’ve just approved about two dozen ideas that are meant to get those areas better connections.
“There are so many different pieces to this puzzle ... it’s going to take so many different people working together,” said state Rep. Susan Holmes, R-Monticello, speaking at the state Capitol just after a state House-Senate study committee approved a report to cap months of hearings on rural broadband access.
It will take a lot of people because it can take a lot of players to roll out internet technology: a company, governments that own rights-of-way, enough customers to make it worthwhile. Some places use public grants to launch or run services.
In six hearings over the last few weeks, the committee heard from dozens of people testifying on behalf of hospitals, schools, counties, companies and economic development agencies and others. The report from the Committee on High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians says reliable access is a clear “statement to maintain Georgia’s global economic standing.”
Some of the suggestions in the committee’s report have to do with making the money side more attractive: the Legislature might consider tax credits or public loans for certain rural broadband builds, for example. The report also suggests reworking some regulations around rights-of-way to lay fiber or getting local permission to do projects.
Not everything in the report is a matter for state lawmakers — some suggestions have to do with state agency rules, local governments or federal money. But some could get fleshed out enough to get heard by the Legislature in 2017 or 2018.
State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said he could see one or more bills about rural broadband being filed during the legislative term that starts in January.
“Just about everywhere I’ve gone in rural Georgia, people are screaming for help,” Gooch said. “Out of all the phone calls and complaints that I get, the number one concern has been … internet access, speeds, cost: they’re paying for X amount of megabytes and only getting Y, so there’s a problem there.”
Holmes said fixes won’t happen overnight, “but I think we are getting closer to seeing solutions just because of the interest that’s been generated in this.”
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee