Members of Dawson County's state delegation have been tasked with tackling rural Georgia's high-speed internet challenges.
Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, was appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to serve as co-chair of the Joint High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians Study Committee. Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, was House Speaker David Ralston's pick to sit on the committee.
"Increasingly every year, I get more and more complaints about the speed of the internet service being inadequate and the fact that people are paying for a level of service that they claim they don't get," Gooch said.
"Their internet service, broadband in north Georgia, primarily the Windstream network, that's probably the biggest complaint I get about any one particular, specific topic."
Gooch filed legislation during the 2016 session that created the joint committee, after being involved in examining and addressing the need for broadband capabilities in north Georgia for more than a decade.
As a county commissioner in Lumpkin County, Gooch was part of a group of economic development professionals in Lumpkin and Dawson counties that worked together to secure the federal stimulus grant that created the North Georgia Network.
"Even back 16 years ago, we identified the need for better broadband service, primarily for economic development purposes. We knew that then, and we know it now even more," he said.
While a private sector problem, Gooch said he supports looking to see if government can play a role in finding a solution as the connectivity issues impact citizens, businesses, the medical industry and economic development in rural North Georgia.
"I don't know if there is a government solution or not," he said. "We don't see this problem in a metropolitan area, because the larger companies are investing millions on infrastructure, but when you get out in rural Georgia, we're experiencing the same problem everywhere. It's not just in Windstream's service area."
One idea Gooch is floating involves determining if there are any incentives that could be offered to encourage companies servicing rural areas to upgrade broadband lines.
Another, he said, might consist of looking to the model EMCs used decades ago that brought electricity to rural Georgia when larger companies like Georgia Power wouldn't service the areas.
"I don't have the answers right here and right now," he said. "We really want to come up with some sensible solutions that we can implement and work with partners like the private companies that own these systems and encourage and incentivize them to get this infrastructure upgraded as fast as possible."
The committee plans to hold six informational meetings across rural Georgia to gather information from the public, affected businesses, government officials and anyone with a stake in finding a solution.
"There will be one here in North Georgia, possibly in Dahlonega at the University of North Georgia, and we'll go everywhere else we need to go," Gooch said. "Our ultimate goal is to look for recommendations that we can take back to the general assembly in December and say here's where the weaknesses in rural broadband are and here are the strengths and opportunities."