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South Ga. lawmakers will work to improve rural broadband in 2022

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Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 11:29 AM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Georgia state lawmakers will head back to the capitol in a couple of weeks to begin their 2022 General Assembly session.

Several state senators from south Georgia say one of their focuses will be continuing to improve broadband in rural areas.

State Senators Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) and Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) said they are looking forward to finding more ways to improve access to the internet and access to a quality connection.

Sen. Tyler Harper (R-District 7) said he is looking forward to finding more ways to improve...
Sen. Tyler Harper (R-District 7) said he is looking forward to finding more ways to improve access to the internet and access to a quality connection.(WALB)

“Rural broadband’s a significant issue,” Harper said. “I have always likened it to the electrification issue that we saw in the 1930s. The General Assembly stepped up and passed the Rural Electrification Act and were able to address that issue in our state.”

According to Georgia’s 2021 broadband report, about one in 11 homes and businesses in Georgia still don’t have what the state considers acceptable quality broadband. Nearly 75% of those are in rural Georgia.

“Everybody can get a little bit of this here and now,” Powell Sims said. “But, you get interruptions. We don’t need that. We need something that’s going to work.”

Both lawmakers said the pandemic highlighted the problem with many people working from home and kids learning from home.

They said this is about attracting new businesses to southwest Georgia as well.

“We’re going to have to have the infrastructure in place to attract them,” Powell Sims said. “If we don’t have that infrastructure, they’re not coming.”

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-District 12) said the pandemic highlighted the problem with...
Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-District 12) said the pandemic highlighted the problem with broadband internet as many people were working from home and kids were learning from home.(WALB)

There are several new public-private partnerships currently working to help in Southwest Georgia.

In July 2020, Colquitt EMC and Windstream announced they “will share responsibility for expanding the kinetic fiber-optic broadband network” reaching rural areas in Colquitt County.

In April 2021, the state announced that Middle Georgia EMC was teaming up with Conexon Connect to launch a 1,900-mile fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network providing high-speed internet access to people in Dooly, Houston, Macon, Pulaski, Turner, Wilcox and Ben Hill counties.

In June 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that Irwin EMC was also partnering with Conexon Connect, to build another 1,900-mile FTTH network. This will benefit people in rural areas of Ben Hill, Berrien, Coffee, Irwin, Tift, Turner, Wilcox and Worth counties.

Both Conexon projects are expected to be completed within two to three years.

In October 2021, Sumter EMC and Kinetic announced a partnership to deliver fiber broadband to 16,000 homes and businesses in 11 counties: Chattahoochee, Dougherty, Lee, Marion, Quitman, Randolph, Schley, Stewart, Sumter, Terrell and Webster.

Lawmakers said it’s important for them to continue discussing and making changes, and allocating money, to make way for more improvements.

“The partnerships are better. People are talking to each other,” Powell Sims said. “At one time, it was us and them sort of, and nobody wanted to give in, but you have to in order for our economies to grow.”

“I feel like we’re gonna start seeing some real movement in addressing this over the next 12 to 14 months and even over the next two to three years,” Harper said.

Kemp’s office said as of this past summer, new partnerships formed across the state in the past couple of years should expand broadband access for around 200,000 homes and businesses.

Georgia lawmakers will kick off the 2022 General Assembly session on Jan. 10.

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