The Georgia House of Representatives approved a midyear budget that would grant rural areas, like Oglethorpe County, funding for increased internet construction.
The funding includes $20 million that will be distributed to rural counties all across Georgia in an effort to resolve an issue that has become even more urgent in the presence of COVID-19.
Calvin Weaver, chairman of the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Big Dawg Signs and Designs, said since most of his business has now moved online, the lack of decent internet service has become a significant source of frustration for him and other small businesses.
There are times where I have had to come into town just to get good internet so I can do something. Even today, the internet went out at least 10 or 15 times; it’s terrible,” Weaver said.
As chairman of the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce, Weaver said other members of the chamber have experienced similar challenges with internet service.
“We’ve been trying to get our internet switched out at the chamber because of poor internet service. The businesses in town have great service, but the small businesses on the outskirts complain,” Weaver said.
Oglethorpe County was named the country’s first broadband ready community in 2018, a title that would make it easier for counties in Georgia to build high-speed internet lines. Amy Stone, Oglethorpe County’s economic development director, said this funding will provide the county with a much-needed change.
Stone said COVID-19 has exacerbated a very serious opportunity gap between suburban and rural communities. She said the lack of decent internet access has dramatically impacted those who work from home and college students.
Forty-eight percent of the population in Oglethorpe County has been deemed “unserved,” meaning they cannot get 25 mb download speeds at minimum, according to Stone.
Brad Turner, owner of Small Town Pest Control, said people working from home have suffered quite a lot due to spotty internet service.
“There’s definitely a need for better internet out here especially in this day and time, and in rural areas. There’s a lot of people that work from home now, and it’s terrible when they can’t because of terrible internet service,” Turner said.
Oglethorpe County will be persistent in pursuing the state funding, as they have been a proponent for better internet access for years. The funding still has to be approved by the Georgia Senate in order to go into effect.
Stone said even if the funding gets passed, the county still faces some hurdles in bringing internet construction to communities.
“It would take about $25 million to bring fiber to every household in Oglethorpe County, and I believe the amount the House passed was $30 million. So there’s still a huge gap in how much it would cost to do a hardwire solution like fiber,” Stone said.
Asmarah Yaqoob is a senior majoring in Journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia.
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