The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative is geared toward providing access to high-speed internet across the state, and Oglethorpe County has completed a major step in the process as Georgia’s first certified Broadband Ready Community.
Any political subdivision in Georgia pursuing improved Broadband service is eligible to apply. The path to certification involves completing the online application form and demonstrating compliance with the adoption of both a Comprehensive Plan inclusive of the promotion of Broadband service deployment and a Broadband Ordinance Model.
High-speed internet remains out of reach for many residents in rural Georgia. Broadband legislation, passed in the 2018 session, is intended to promote deployment of these services. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) selected Deana Perry to lead the Broadband program. As Executive Director, Deana brings more than 20 years of industry experience.
“Broadband supports education, healthcare, workforce training, small businesses, Agribusiness and overall quality of life,” Perry said. “It closes gaps in areas of access, disparities and advancement.”
Oglethorpe County’s Planning Development Director Amy Stone was familiar with Broadband but said DCA Regional Rep Beth Eavenson was instrumental in providing more insight at a regional roundtable meeting. Stone said, “Beth presented the model legislation and the application link and encouraged us to apply.”
According to Stone, Oglethorpe County is 99% rural with less than 15,000 people in a 441-square-mile area. She said, “Although our population is mostly concentrated in the northwestern part of the county, their access to reliable Broadband speeds varies significantly. We have folks with great internet access right across the road from folks with dial-up. We completed a Broadband survey last year and found that while 90% of our residents have access to some form of internet either from DSL, wireless or satellite, 80% of them are dissatisfied with their service, primarily because of reliability and speed.”
The decision to apply for the Broadband Ready Community designation was to show how serious the county was about solutions in their community as well as to be considered by providers regarding expansion of services. Stone adds, “Our county has already committed funds to our Development Authority for the purposes of launching a pilot broadband project, but our hope is that by showing our commitment through the Broadband Ready designation, that we can leverage those funds into something even more impactful for our businesses and residents.”
She continues by saying, “My hope is that it will show to providers and to legislators that we are open to ideas and solutions. Our community tends to be pretty quiet – we don’t make a big fuss about what we’re doing – we tend to just roll our sleeves up and do the work. But in this case, we really saw the Broadband Ready designation as a way to brand our community as ‘Open for Business,’ and we want to share that message as far as we can.”
Stone encourages other communities to apply for designation. She said the process was straightforward and the steps are in line with what most communities are already going. She said, “I know my counterparts in Northeast Georgia have all been looking at broadband solutions in their Comprehensive Plans. It’s just a matter of identifying what those work plan items are and adopting legislation to streamline the overall process for your potential providers.”
Oglethorpe County Chairman Billy Pittard echoed Stone’s sentiments about the need for Broadband in their community, saying the commissioners and Economic Development Authority (EDA) have been in constant pursuit of its delivery. He said, “The Broadband Ready Community designation is one of the things we felt was necessary to improve our position. We are delighted to have this designation and are thankful for Amy’s efforts and those of the EDA in seeing this to fruition.”