Internet connectivity has disconnected our communities. Contradictory, I know. But as cities and counties in metro Atlanta and other metro areas enjoy high-speed internet, and can even choose between numerous providers, our rural communities either completely lack access or find a lack of choices and high prices.
The impact of this disparity is startling. In a world that is no longer defined by bricks and mortar, access to the superhighway of high-speed broadband is critical. No Georgian – in any corner of our state – can afford to miss the boundless opportunities technology provides.
Rural broadband is an economic issue. Businesses will not locate in areas without adequate broadband, and existing enterprises are inhibited by a lack of high-speed access. One example is a business owner in the north Georgia mountains who thought that he had paid his taxes online, but months later was assessed late fees because the Internet connection failed, and now may be forced to close his business.
However, I recently visited with a pecan farmer in Ocilla who has grown his business ten-fold by infiltrating the Chinese marketplace. This growth would have been impossible without the instant connectivity of the Internet.
Rural broadband is an education issue. The Internet has revolutionized education by allowing students to learn in ways that redefine traditional textbooks and expanding imaginations to dream the impossible. Our children must be afforded access to a world-class education regardless of their hometown’s population.
Simply, rural broadband is a quality of life issue. All Georgians deserve access to high-speed Internet so they can earn, learn and live in the 21st century.
We have done extensive studies – specifically through the Joint Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for all Georgians – to develop legislative solutions.
Personally, I have done extensive research to understand the avenues by which other communities in our state and nation have extended broadband infrastructure to include rural regions. I have studied the co-op model that has been a success story in Sibley County, Minn., and many public/private partnerships, such as in Westminster, Md., to examine if these models could work in Georgia.
Just this week, I met with an assembly of cable executives and then visited local leaders in our own community of Thomasville to learn about their successful broadband initiative.
I have a bold vision and a lofty goal. We will build out our broadband infrastructure so that every single community in this state has access to high-speed Internet. This will be a monumental undertaking, and an issue of this magnitude will require relentless executive leadership from our next governor. As a longtime businessman, I fully understand that a project of this size will require immense investment and focus.
I will continue to lead on rural broadband. I want every business and every citizen in Georgia to have access to high-speed Internet. The first step is exploring public private partnerships and other options in order to ensure that fiber-optic connections are available to every single community. That access then can be easily extended to a house or business at a specified cost.
I believe in a Georgia that isn’t defined by obstacles, but is resolute in turning obstacles into opportunities. However our broadband infrastructure is built out, all Georgians will get access to broadband. The Internet is essential to our continued growth, and I am committed to connecting every Georgian to the prosperity of the 21st century.
To those who think my vision is impossible: Just Google our success in a couple of years – I guarantee you’ll be able to in all Georgia communities.
The writer has been Georgia’s lieutenant governor since 2007.