Deana Perry, executive director of broadband for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, compared the work her office is doing right now to building the legs for a stool — you might not be able to sit down yet, but you wouldn’t ever be able to sit down if the stool didn’t have those legs.
Members of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission Council heard from Perry and Brittney Hickom, broadband program consultant 1 for the GDCA, during their monthly meeting in Calhoun on Thursday.
Both ladies told commission council members that state legislation passed over the past couple of sessions has made it possible for the state to begin moving toward the goal of expanding broadband internet access to all Georgians. Currently, there are 1.6 million residents in the state that lack such access.
Perry said they have been working to create an accurate map that shows exactly where that lack of access exists.
“Our goal with the statewide map is to determine where the unserved areas are,” she said.
Previously, Federal Communication Commission maps where the go-to for this, but those maps were flawed because they considered any Census block in which one household had access as an area served by high speed internet. The GDCA only considers an area served if at least 20% percent of residents have such access.
The state has been working with all 47 retail providers in Georgia to find out where all they offer service. So far, 30 of those companies have provided their lists and the remaining ones are working on their own.
Knowing where these places are is the first step, said Perry. Next will be determining how to work with local communities and service providers to secure funding and build out that service.
Hickom said that one recent piece of legislation requires that local municipalities include broadband access as a priority in any new or updated comprehensive plans. She said local governments have responded well to that requirement.
“Folks are getting the job done, which is great to see,” Hickom said.
She explained that once a community has updated their plans to include broadband access and adopted a model ordinance related to those plans they can apply to receive a designation as a Broadband Ready Community. That designation comes with a press release, certificate and a special logo for use on local government websites.
Hickom said the designation shows that a community is eager and working toward providing broadband in their area, which can be a plus as they apply for funding assistance at the state and federal levels. She said the Georgia Department of Economic Development is partnering in that certification effort.
“Just like water and sewer services are important, so is high speed internet,” she said.
The bulk of the work so far, though, is building the legs of the stool, Perry said. Officials have to figure out the “where” before they can move on to the “how.”
“What are those unserved areas? How do we identify them? And how do we get service out to them? And how do we pay for it?” she asked.