The issue of spotty internet in Oconee County is not a novel concept to Kelley Buttrick, a professional voiceover talent working from her home in Bishop, Georgia, in the southern portion of Oconee County. 

She said her ability to communicate with her clients is often hindered by the unreliable internet service she experiences, especially with more people, like her own children, using the internet for online school during peak business hours due to COVID-19.

“This is what I do for a living. I do it all day every day. And the key is to be able to provide the services I promise I’m going to provide for my clients,” Buttrick said. “And it’s incredibly frustrating when I can’t do that.”

New Option for Internet

A plan to bring a widespread, broadband internet coverage option to the Oconee County’s most service-deprived areas may help to fix Buttrick’s issues.

The broadband internet project, which is being voted on by the county Board of Commissioners in their upcoming Oct. 6 meeting, is set to build an 80-mile fiber ring around the county in an effort to increase wireless internet speeds and coverage.  

Justin Kiroauc, an administrator for Oconee County overseeing the plan, said reliable internet has not just become a utility that is nice to have, but one that is needed. This is especially true for the southern, more rural portion of the county below Watkinsville, where faster internet speeds are harder to come by due to geography.

Especially in the southern part of our county, we might have pretty large acreage tracts where the telecoms just haven’t built out the internet or broadband services down there,” Kiroauc said. “So yeah, this has been kind of an issue for a while.”

The addition of a new broadband internet service option may finally reach Oconee County residents with no viable service provider at all; according to Kiroauc, many of the residents who would benefit from the project are without reliable internet from providers like AT&T or Comcast.

According to data obtained from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Broadband Deployment Initiative, around 16,100 locations in Oconee County are served by broadband internet. Over 2,000 locations are unserved, which makes 12 percent of the county unserved by reliable broadband internet.

The data matches the community’s frustrations; the idea for the project was in part spurred on by complaints made by community members, according to Kiroauc.

The project, still in early stages of engineering and planning, is set to take two and a half years to build. 

Molly English is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

 

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