While Haralson County and parts of Carroll will soon receive better internet access, making that level of service available to everyone in Carroll County remains to be seen.
Comcast is investing $9 million to upgrade its infrastructure into Waco, Tallapoosa, Mount Zion, and Whitesburg, giving those area residents access to its Xfinity network, including internet, cybersecurity, mobile service, and entertainment. This upgrade will bring improved broadband service into the area within a year.
The enhancements will affect about 7,800 households and businesses that were unserved previously, said Christopher Nunn, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Comcast had earlier approached the cities of Waco and Tallapoosa as well as Haralson County asking for about $200,000 in tax abatements and franchise fee rebates as it works to upgrade its systems in the area to the level of the network it offers in Atlanta.
But when the company approached Carroll County with a similar request in January, Commission Chairman Michelle Morgan declined.
That’s because she said the offer would be unfair for some county residents to have to pay an additional fee, while residents in north Carroll receive the broadband service from Comcast without paying the extra fee.
“In providing service, it would also add an extra fee to all taxpayers in the area whether or not they choose to use (the) Comcast service,” Morgan said. “It seemed like an unnecessary burden on these citizens.”
She added there is an area of Carroll County that needs the internet, but she said Comcast is neglecting these residents. She said it would not be fair for her to tell residents why they could not receive the service when others are.
District 4 Commissioner Steve Fuller, who represents the Clem area, said broadband internet access is “critical” for residents in rural areas of the county. He added that, during the coronavirus pandemic, “the internet became the classroom” for students who had to do their schoolwork at home.
He said if internet services are expanded to Whitesburg, Comcast can somehow find a way to extend this to Clem and other rural areas of his district.
“I have spoken with families in the Clem area who had to go to other locations so that high-speed internet services could be accessed by their children,” Fuller said. “My wife, Donna, attempted to work from home but services were painfully slow or nonexistent. She was eventually allowed to work at her office after being furloughed. This really brought the need for rural broadband home.”
But Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations with Comcast, said in an email on Wednesday morning there are no current plans to expand the broadband internet service beyond Mount Zion and Whitesburg.
Carroll County Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Jackson said that he and the Chamber are routinely engaging with telecom providers, especially when it comes to service for industrial prospects.
Broadband deployment is a “complex project,” he said, that requires the cooperation of several entities, including utility companies, local governments, internet service providers as well as state and federal resources.
“Carroll Tomorrow and the Chamber will continue to work with these partners to find a solution that meets the needs of the citizens, as well as the financial constraints of the service providers,” Jackson said. “We use each opportunity to ask about the expansion of broadband service in Carroll County, specifically so the workers of our prospective companies can work from home if necessary.”
He said Chamber leaders also communicate with state legislators when telecommunications bills are under consideration within the General Assembly. They also partnered with Carroll EMC to craft a broadband feasibility study, which he noted has guided the electric membership cooperative’s interest in its potential deployment of broadband.
Earlier this month, Vice President of Communications and Economic Development Jay Gill with Carroll EMC said a regional fiber company has identified the cooperative as a potential partner. He said that last spring, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 2 that allows EMCs to provide broadband services.
“EMCs in Georgia have been seeking statutory clarity for years and lawmakers made it happen with Senate Bill 2 last spring,” Gill wrote in an email statement. “It’s been less than a year since Gov. (Brian) Kemp signed it into law, and we’ve seen several EMCs move forward either independently or with partners. Carroll EMC is following suit and identified a potential partner. It is important to realize this process is incredibly expensive and slow and has many moving parts. It will not happen overnight.”
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