Part IV: Broadband by Committee

Credit: Beau Evans (State Affairs)

Nov 24, 2021
Key Points
  • Hundreds of thousands of families and businesses across the state lack reliable modern-day internet to tackle their jobs and attend school.
  • Around $700 million could help bridge the digital divide between Georgia’s urban and rural counties.
  • Costs of building broadband – at several thousand dollars per location – highlights the need for local governments to keep providers from duplicating service or cherry-picking easier-to-reach areas.

A committee of state lawmakers and agency heads is now weeding through 169 applications from city and county governments, electrical co-ops and nonprofits vying for a slice of the $300 million in federal ARPA funds. They’re using a scorecard to rank applicants based on how many people a broadband project will cover and whether they have the operational and financial chops to maintain fast internet over the long term. Ultimately, it’s up to the committee which cities, counties and providers receive funding, said Jennifer Wade, the grants manager for the state Office of Planning and Budget that’s overseeing the ARPA-funded projects.

“It will be really the committee’s discretion as far as how much over-build [on top of existing high-speed internet service] will be allowed,” Wade said. “They are working through that.”

Wade said her office plans to bring on outside auditors to check whether local governments and companies stick to their designs and stay within budget. Committee members can also use Georgia’s detailed broadband availability map to identify spots where projects may overlap new broadband service with existing coverage, said the GTA’s Simmons.

“Ultimately, the goal is to get service to the unserved,” Simmons said. “Some applications might have a slight amount of over-build, but we’re using our data to make sure that information is communicated to the committee.”

State lawmakers on the ARPA committee for broadband include Reps. Terry England (R-Auburn), Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn), Jodi Lott (R-Evans) and Patty Bentley (D-Butler), and Sens. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) and Harold Jones II (D-Augusta). Top officials from 10 state agencies including for transportation, housing and public schools also sit on the committee.

What else do you want to know about high-speed internet access in Georgia? Share your thoughts/tips by emailing [email protected].