The head of the Federal Communications Commission said a visit to an electric cooperative in Georgia has helped crystalize the mission of rural broadband for her.
“Traveling across Georgia, it is clear we need to get 100% of Americans online, no matter who they are or where they live,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel after participating in a Nov. 12 broadband roundtable with electric co-op leaders and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., at Jackson Electric Membership Corp.
“Broadband access unlocks job and economic opportunities, keeps students connected to their schoolwork and offers new ways to keep in touch with our health care providers, and much more,” Rosenworcel said. “Hearing and learning directly from the skilled individuals building out our networks and the communities affected by a lack of infrastructure are lessons I will carry with me as we move forward with the FCC’s work to ensure everyone gets a fair shot at 21st century success.”
Warnock described the struggle people in rural Georgia face without reliable high-speed internet access and expressed hope that solutions may be at hand.
“Broadband is a utility just like electricity or water, and in 2021, everyone needs reliable access to the internet for their jobs, their companies and to live their lives,” Warnock said. “I was so glad to be with FCC Chair Rosenworcel today to tour and visit with the leaders at Jackson EMC and discuss how local and federal partners can keep working together to advance our shared goal of connecting Georgians to all the economic and educational opportunities that broadband has to offer.”
They talked about how the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund process could be improved through expedited environmental reviews for applicants. They also discussed how pandemic-related supply chain delays are making it difficult to meet broadband deployment milestones for certain federal funding programs and why it is important to have accurate maps from the FCC to identify unserved areas.
“Broadband connectivity is a vital issue,” said Chip Jakins, president and CEO of Jackson EMC. “EMCs across the state are expanding broadband in their communities using several different approaches.”
Jackson EMC, about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta and the state’s largest electric co-op, is exploring partnerships with broadband providers to bring high-speed internet service to unserved areas.
Wendy Sellers, CEO of Washington EMC, said electric co-ops are “making a real impact on the expansion of broadband in rural Georgia” and rural areas “desperately need” federal funds to build fiber networks to serve members.”
Dennis Chastain, president and CEO of Georgia EMC, said it was an honor to have Rosenworcel and Warnock meet with co-ops on the critical issue of rural broadband. “EMCs in Georgia are eager to play a part in helping solve our state’s digital divide and it’s exciting to see our national leaders recognize the great work being done all over our state,” he said.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.