ATLANTA -- While 94 percent of all Georgians have access to broadband Internet service, only 65 use it, largely because older Georgians don’t think it’s relevant to their lives or they’re afraid of it, witnesses told a Senate committee Tuesday studying the economic and generational digital divide.
“There is an ongoing fear that I’m going to be digital-ed out,” said Marcia Wallace, a 64 year-old secretary. “It’s not that I don’t want to be on the Internet ... I need somebody somewhere that can teach me.”
Wallace, who calls herself part of the typewriter generation living in a computer age, said she isn’t familiar with the terminology or the functioning of computers but must use them to conduct business nowadays.
“Most places, you can’t talk to a live person any more. You’ll have to go to their website,” she said.
Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, said she hears the same frustration from her older constituents as they seek instructions for accessing the Internet.
“When I talk to seniors, they all tell me, ‘People are not talking to me. They are all talking over me, around me and under me,’” Seay said.
That’s one reason she sponsored legislation to create the committee that is doing the study of the digital divide. It is hearing from people like Wallace as well as organizations like AARP and the public library system that offer training to retirees.
Also testifying Tuesday were representatives of two large technology companies about their efforts.
AT&T’s $3.3 billion investment in the last three years has propelled Georgia to the No. 1 state in terms of broadband access, said company lobbyist Kevin Curtain.
“That’s something we should all be proud of, especially since so much of Georgia is rural and we’re ahead of states like New Hampshire and Rhode Island that are so much smaller,” he said.
Comcast is in the midst of a program to offer discounted cable-based Internet and $150 computers to access it to the 474,000 students in its market areas that qualify for free lunch at school because of their family’s low income.
“If you can get into the students, into the children, you obviously are getting into the family as well,” said Comcast lobbyist Michael Wall.
Seay’s committee will continue meeting throughout the year, holding two meetings during the Senate’s current special session. It will also look at programs used in other states and around Georgia and make a report on policy changes before the General Assembly reconvenes in January.