According to a recent report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approximately 19 million Americans lack access to broadband internet service; this issue is particularly acute in rural areas, where one in four residents did not have broadband services at all. As the FCC data indicated, affected populations tended to be older individuals, those with lower incomes, and often people of color. Among other things, lack of broadband internet access affects rural health. Innovative healthcare options like telemedicine and telehealth, which can increase access to healthcare in rural areas and reduce health disparities, require broadband internet connectivity. In effect, the communities that are most in need of these services are the ones who are struggling to access them.
Two rural utilities, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC, offer internet service to their members. Current state law neither prohibits nor allows rural electric municipal cooperatives (EMCs) to provide broadband services to their members.
For these reasons, Georgia Watch believes broadband internet access is a health equity issue and that EMCs should be explicitly permitted to sell broadband internet service to their members. We support legislation (House Bill 23) that would expand internet access in rural communities around the state.
Current Georgia Legislation: Introduced by Rep. Penny Houston (R-170), House Bill 23 would expand internet access in rural areas of the state by allowing local electricity cooperatives to sell broadband service. On February 11, 2019, legislators voted unanimously to pass the bill. Rep. Steve Gooch (R-51) introduced Senate Bill 2, a companion bill.