A federal map shows Lumpkin County with just a smattering of dark zones where residents and business owners lack access to broadband internet access.
But that has proven to be a rosy view of internet connections in this mountain community.
State mapping now shows most of the north Georgia county living without broadband-level service, meaning a download speed of at least 25 megabits and an upload speed of 3 megabits. Statewide, about 1.6 million people are thought to go without it.
Lumpkin County is one of three counties that were the first to undergo intensive mapping designed to show the true need for a service now seen as vital to modern living as highways and running water. Tift and Elbert counties also participated. This granular mapping is meant to help clarify where future grant funding should be directed.
A statewide version of the map won’t be finished until June 2020, said Deana Perry, broadband director with the state Department of Community Affairs. Perry gave lawmakers an update on the program at the House Rural Development Council meeting held Wednesday in Moultrie.
Once completed, the maps will provide a street-level view of broadband access across Georgia, providing a much sharper focus than what can found today in the Federal Communications Commission maps. Those federal maps rely on census block-level data; if one house in a census block has broadband, then the entire group is deemed covered.
“This is a one-of-a-kind mapping. This has not been done by any other state. It hasn’t been done at the federal level,” Perry said. “But what we do know is that there is a big push because everyone knows that the FCC maps is inaccurate.”
Even the more optimistic FCC maps show major gaps in coverage, particularly in middle and south Georgia. Milledgeville’s next-door neighbor, Hancock County, for example, has about 86% of residents and businesses go without broadband.
The new state mapping is coming out of legislation passed last year, which also set up a “broadband ready” program that requires communities to adopt a local ordinance meant to speed up the process of permitting and granting right-of-way access to providers.
Oglethorpe County, which FCC mapping shows as being 30 percent unserved, became the first to earn the “broadband ready” designation this summer.
“We can’t invite anybody to dinner if we don’t have a dining room table,” said Amy Stone, the county’s economic development director. “And so we can’t go out and recruit businesses if we don’t have what they need to function in our community.”
Lawmakers came back this year and passed a measure allowing electric and telephone co-ops to provide broadband, partly in hopes of claiming a slice of the $600 million in federal funding available.
But efforts to drum up state revenues to boost rural access, such as through a tax on streaming service and digital downloads, have so far fallen short. Providers often say they are reluctant to invest in the thinly populated areas of the state that do not yield the profits found in areas with more people.