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State officials continue search for better internet access, more connectivity
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Windstream announced last week that it plans to upgrade its broadband internet service in Northeast Georgia counties, including Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Habersham and Jackson.

The plans come after months of criticism lobbed at the Arkansas-based company regarding poor performance and download speeds.

Customer complaints about Windstream's slow internet service in homes and businesses throughout Georgia's 9th District, which encompasses all of Northeast Georgia, prompted a public rebuke from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.

"We are listening closely to the communities we serve in North Georgia and making significant changes to give our customers the experience they deserve," Jarrod Berkshire, president of operations for Windstream in Georgia, said in a statement. "We're committed to expanding access to fast, reliable internet speeds throughout North Georgia, and will continue to make improvements that allow us to do so."

An estimated 67,000 households will benefit from the upgrade plans, which will provide communities with internet speeds of up to 100 megabits-per-second.

Windstream is also expanding fiber-to-the-home in select areas.

While Windstream has been struggling to meet the demands of rural communities, local and state representatives have been adamant about finding solutions to the lack of internet service providers in rural counties.

"After years of calling for additional investment and accountability from Windstream in Northeast Georgia, I am glad to see them invest in their infrastructure to increase broadband speeds in the Ninth District, Collins said in a statement direct to The Times in Gainesville. "However, we have heard these promises before, and I remain skeptical of the outcome based on the past promises and performance of Windstream. While this may lead to better reliability and speeds, it is limited to Windstream's existing cable footprint. I will continue to monitor the real time customer experience of Windstream users across the affected counties in my district, and hold Windstream accountable so that they are delivering the services they advertise and that their customers deserve."

Improving broadband internet service and access across Georgia's rural communities has been the focus of state lawmakers working on a joint committee this year. In June, members of Dawson County's state delegation were 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.

At the time, Gooch said he wasn't sure if a government solution would be possible, but that the problem he sees is distinctly rural.

"We don't see this problem in a metropolitan area, because larger companies are investing millions on infrastructure," Gooch said in June. "When you get out in rural Georgia, we're experiencing the same problem everywhere. It's not just in Windstream's service area."

On Oct. 4, Gooch and Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, asked residents of Georgia to participate in a web-based survey about their experiences with existing broadband access.

Gooch has said the committee will use the survey results to make recommendations to the General Assembly next year, which could include proposals for creating tax incentives to spur new investments in broadband and scrapping some government regulations. Residents are encouraged to complete the survey before Dec. 1.

Though the infrastructure improvements promise 100 Mbps that will allow internet users to play games online with less lag and enjoy almost seamless video chatting, according to Berkshire they won't be finished until mid-2017.

In the meantime Georgia lawmakers and citizen activists may have found alternative means to provide internet services to rural north Georgia.

Staff writer Allie Dean contributed to this story.