Although broadband internet access is rolling out to west Georgia residents, one Carroll County commissioner is voicing his concerns about how quickly that access is being made available.
On Sept. 23, District 5 Commissioner Ernest Reynolds posted on his Facebook page that he is looking to push entities such as Carroll EMC and the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce into improving rural internet service. His district includes Whitesburg and Roopville as well as the Lowell and Hulett communities.
“I’m hoping more can be done than finger-point and that better internet connectivity can actually be accomplished — sooner rather than later — for the good of all of us in rural areas, especially considering these times when online methods are at the forefront,” he wrote.
In fact, broadband is coming to the area, even as more antiquated forms of internet access are leaving. A spokesperson for AT&T said the communications giant is getting rid of services such as DSL, and new orders will no longer be supported after Oct. 1. Current customers will be able to continue their service. That would leave vast parts of Carroll County to wait for telecommunications giants to extend their service into those rural areas.
Reynolds told the Times-Georgian on Tuesday that the Carroll Board of Commissioners does not have much say in where — or when — new fiber cable gets installed within the county. He added because there is no single entity in charge of providing better internet access, the issue is complicated and cannot be solved overnight.
“I don’t think the efforts are being made,” Reynolds said. “You have all of these entities involved and we, as the Carroll County commissioners, as a body, can’t lay the line. It isn’t like building a road. We can’t say, ‘well, hurry up and get this one done.’ ”
With students and employees learning and working from home, reliance on the internet has become increasingly crucial during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 21 million Americans lack advanced broadband internet access, according to the latest broadband deployment report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC defines “advanced” broadband as download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second with upload speeds of three megabits per second.
In 2019, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 2 to allow EMCs across the state to collaborate with internet service providers to create broadband access. Congress later gave $600 million this year to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fund connectivity projects.
In June, SyncGlobal and Carroll EMC announced a partnership to invest $12.5 million in laying fiber networks in parts of southern Carroll and northwestern Heard counties.
This project is being funded by the USDA’s Broadband ReConnect Program, which gives grants and loans to construct, improve, or acquire facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.
That expansion will affect about 7,300 residents, 121 farms, 15 businesses, four fire stations, and an elementary school — but not the larger part of the county, or at least not anytime soon.
Carroll EMC Vice President of Communications and Economic Development Jay Gill emailed Reynolds this week and said there are additional criteria to meet with the USDA’s Rural Utility Service in order to break ground on the SyncGlobal project. The newspaper obtained a copy of this email.
The Rural Utility Service provides infrastructure upgrades such as broadband access and electric infrastructure to rural communities.
“Once USDA gives us the ‘green light,’ we can start moving,” Gill wrote. “I think it’s also important to know that Carroll EMC and SyncGlobal will be making substantial financial commitments to these projects, well beyond grant funds. As a not-for-profit electric cooperative, our only goal is to decrease the ‘digital divide,’ much like we did with electricity in the 1930s.”
But while the EMC and Bremen-based internet service provider SyncGlobal are waiting, another expansion project by communications giant Comcast is “well ahead of schedule.”
On June 12, Comcast announced a network expansion to Haralson and Carroll counties to provide access to nearly 8,000 homes and businesses in rural Tallapoosa, Mount Zion, Waco, and Whitesburg.
Comcast’s services will begin around Dec. 2 in Tallapoosa, Waco, and unincorporated Haralson County, Comcast Vice President of Public Relations Alex Horwitz said. The transition process will occur neighborhood by neighborhood and will last about two weeks.
On Jan. 7, he said the company will begin providing the same suite of services to residents and businesses in Whitesburg, Mt. Zion, unincorporated Carroll County, and the City of Carrollton. In this case, the process to roll out service across the entire area will take a few weeks.
“We’re very pleased to be well ahead of schedule in our plans to deliver services to residents and businesses in Haralson and Carroll counties,” Horwitz said. “Soon, these communities will be home to some of the most advanced services and fastest internet speeds available.”
“Bridging the digital divide has never been more critical, and this nearly $9 million investment will bring our entire suite of Xfinity services, including a wide range of internet options from $9.95 per month Internet Essentials to the super-fast, one gigabit speed broadband service, to almost 8,000 previously unserved homes and businesses in the region.”