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Broadband Map Sheds Light on Underserved Areas of Georgia

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs published a broadband map that highlights underserved portions of the state. The map also provides data on where high-speed Internet is available.

by Katie Nussbaum, Savannah Morning News / July 13, 2020

(TNS) — A recently published broadband availability map by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs is helping to shine a light on underserved rural areas around the state.

Of the more than 507,000 homes and businesses lacking access to reliable broadband service at speeds of 25/3 megabits per second (mpbs), nearly 70% of these locations are in rural parts of Georgia.

According to the map, there are 148,279 locations served in Chatham County and 1,375 are underserved for a total of 1%; In Bryan County there are 16,996 locations served and 560 underserved for a total of 3%; In Effingham County there are 24,956 locations with 1,650 underserved for a total of 6% and in Liberty County there are 27,292 served locations and 2,466 are underserved for a total of 8%.

The map provides data on where high-speed Internet service is available, it doesn't indicate where residents are subscribing to those Internet services. That information is held by the private providers.

While the company doesn't provide exact customer numbers, Alex Horwitz, Vice President of Public Relations for Comcast said the company is currently the largest provider in the four-county area and continues to look for opportunities to extend their advanced fiber network.

"In fact, there are several rural areas – which we refer to as Broadband Opportunity Zones – near Savannah that we're closely considering for possible expansion as part of our efforts to bridge the digital divide," he said.

"This investment would support online learning, workforce development and economic growth."

The company has also recently announced efforts to expand the network's reach in four mostly rural communities in Georgia, Tallapoosa, Mount Zion, Waco and Whitesburg. Within a year, Comcast's entire range of Xfinity services will be available to almost 8,000 previously unserved homes and businesses in the region, Horwitz said.

South Carolina-based Hargray currently provides fiber-delivered broadband service to nearly 7,000 residential and commercial customers in Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties, according to Ron Proleika, Director of Marketing.

"Our purpose is to empower people and communities to connect and thrive. To help fulfill this purpose, we have invested millions of dollars expanding our fiber optic network infrastructure -- which is the gold standard of broadband networks -- in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Northern Florida," Proleika said.

The company plans to continue expanding and improving their services and products, which include Hosted Unified Communications, Metro Ethernet, multi-gigabit symmetrical circuits, and managed IT services, he said, adding that more updates are planned for Chatham and surrounding counties.

"When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our areas, we offered free Internet service for 60 days to anyone that did not have our state-of-the-art broadband service, and we were able to connect approximately 2,000 homes with this effort," Proleika said.

"The greater Savannah area is growing rapidly and we believe residential and commercial customers are demanding the type of premium communications products and solutions that Hargray offers. We are also currently assessing areas around Savannah and surrounding communities that do not have fiber-based broadband services to determine possible areas of expansion."

According to information released earlier this month by Gov. Brian Kemp, the map is based on location-specific data, which is a more accurate reflection of which Georgia households have high-speed Internet available via wireline, such as fiber optic cable. Previously, the only indication of Georgians' ability to access a broadband connection was FCC's map, which aggregates data at the Census Block.

The map is also the first to utilize an enhanced location-level methodology to map broadband access with a high degree of precision. This "first in the nation" approach was a collaborative effort between private providers and the Georgia Broadband Office within the Department of Community Affairs.

"I am proud of the commitment from broadband providers and their collaboration with the state's broadband team," Kemp said in a statement.

"This innovative map will enable the private sector to better see where Georgians lack access to high-speed Internet, improve open-market competition, and help providers explore partnerships to address the connectivity needs of our state."

©2020 the Savannah Morning News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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