Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series about plans to expand internet service infrastructure in Georgia.
The internet connects the world, except for the people who cannot access it.
Many of those people are in rural places – some as close by as Grantville in south Coweta County, but others far away. What that means is that people in those areas have a harder time becoming customers of businesses that use the internet for sales.
A lack of connectivity also means people in more rural areas may have a harder time starting and sustaining their businesses in a world that increasingly relies on the internet for communication and commerce.
“Reliable and affordable high-speed internet is vital,” said Larry Hanson, executive director of the Georgia Municipal Association. “It acts as a catalyst for rural prosperity.”
The internet has the potential to connect businesses in far-flung places with markets and customers around the world, Hanson said, adding that internet service has become a necessity.
According to a Federal Communications Commission report, 80 percent of the U.S. households that do not have internet service are in rural areas.
Studies are increasingly showing that internet service – high quality, high-speed internet – is seen as a quality-of-life issue. That trend has the potential for wide economic reverberations. For example, similar housing in the same region may come to have widely different prices based on whether high-speed internet is available.
U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, who lives in Chula in rural south Georgia, knows about the issue.
“In Chula, my cellphone is faster than my internet service that I pay for on a monthly basis,” he said, adding that his telephone bill is cheaper, too.
Chula is otherwise in the 21st century. When Scott flips a switch in his home, the lights come on.
A way needs to be found so that when all Georgians “flip that computer switch on, we’re going to have internet speeds that are useful,” Scott said.
Without the internet, “it’s virtually impossible to run a business today,” Scott said.
Schools now often expect students to be able to use the internet for homework, and government agencies also use the internet.
“We’ve got to have high-speed internet access. You can’t run a gas station without it. You can’t run a machine shop without it,” Scott said.
The need for internet service is likely to be even greater in the future. Looking at the next generation of business, “all of these various different entities in our lives really need broadband internet” to expand, Scott said.
Scott Woods, who works with broadband technical assistance for Broadband USA, outlined some of the advantages that broadband brings to a community. Some school classes can be digitally based, reducing costs for hard copy books and materials.
To have an internet-based class, however, “you need the capacity and the connectivity for students to access that,” Wood said.
Statistics show hospital admissions can be reduced 35 percent and hospital stays by 59 percent with good broadband service.
Telehealth also requires a robust internet connection to be valuable.
Woods said home values tend to be higher – 3.1 percent for a comparable home – when broadband is available.
He told about one town where he was told people could not sell homes in a section that did not have internet access.
“Your new homebuyers – nobody wants to buy a home that doesn’t have connectivity,” Woods said.
Helping the unemployed find work is also a factor. Some 79 percent of unemployed Americans looking for work are using the internet in their search. Many of them who find a possible job need to apply and interact with that company via a website or email.
“Most all communities are moving toward a digital-based system of accessing jobs,” Woods said.
Bruce Abraham, former executive director of the North Georgia Network, which provided broadband to an 11-county region, said availability of top-quality broadband increasingly is going to be an economic development issue because of the reliance of of young adults on technology.
“Everything’s going this way,” he said, noting that a young professional might choose to move to Atlanta rather than stay at home if there is not good internet available.
“If you want to keep them there, you better do something about it now,” Abraham said.