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Faster Internet for rural Ga. proposed

QUITMAN — Rural Georgians who have lived for years with slow internet service are looking to state lawmakers for help.

A proposal has emerged in the General Assembly that could bring broadband service to rural areas, The Valdosta Daily Times reported.

Statewide, at least 626,070 Georgians are without access to broadband service, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The number is probably closer to 1.6 million Georgians who lack access to adequate broadband, according to the state Department of Community Affairs, which is mapping areas of the state.

The agency's work so far reveals a patchwork of coverage that is particularly thin in parts of middle Georgia and south Georgia.

Across much of rural Georgia, residents with little or no internet service are also customers of not-for-profit electric cooperatives. The cooperatives have been providing electricity to rural communities nationally since the 1930s.

Near the Georgia-Florida line, Molly Radford said she signed up for the fastest internet she could get in rural Brooks County, where her family has owned farmland for more than a century. But many of the speed tests on her computer have clocked crawling speeds that barely even register.

For Radford, that means that streaming or downloading video is out of the question. She is able to log onto social media or check her email, as long as no one dares send her a photo.

"It's just hard on everybody," Radford said. "And we look at other areas of our state where they're paying less and getting a great deal more. It's just very frustrating."

"It's just unacceptable in this day and age for the people of rural Georgia to not have basic service," Radford added.

The proposal being debated in the General Assembly would allow the electric cooperatives — and some telephone cooperatives — to provide broadband service, the Valdosta newspaper reported.

The plan is seen by proponents as a way to bring broadband service to more rural Georgians.

A main proponent of the measure, Republican Rep. Penny Houston of Nashville, Georgia, is pushing the idea this year with a sense of urgency. Houston cites a looming application deadline for $600 million in federal loans and grants for rural broadband.

Enabling the state's 41 electric membership corporations to enter the broadband business would bolster Georgia's case for claiming a share of that money, the Valdosta newspaper reported. Mississippi's governor signed a similar measure into law last week.

"It is very important to address it and get this thing passed so EMCs can apply for some federal money," Houston said in an interview. "We send that money to Washington and we want it coming back, too."

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