By Brittany-Rae Gregory, Communications Director
The State of Georgia was recently recognized for its commitment to addressing the stark digital divide among its nearly 11 million residents. The Center for Digital Government conducts a biennial evaluation of states’ technology practices, and for the second survey in a row, Georgia received an ‘A’ classification, the highest possible ranking that a state can receive. The rating is determined by “actions supporting state priorities and policies to improve operations or services, hard and soft-dollar savings/benefits, progress since the last survey, innovative and citizen-centric services, and effective collaboration.”
The States’ success is undoubtedly attributed to its multifaceted approach to helping people get online. Residents’ needs vary by municipality. To address the challenges faced by rural and urban Georgians alike, the State leadership started with the root issue – accurate broadband data.
In July 2020, Governor Brian Kemp announced the launch of the Georgia Broadband Availability Map. The map includes location-specific data about broadband availability in all 159 counties across the State. The map is created by overlaying: (1) all the locations of homes and businesses in the State of Georgia, and (2) broadband provider service availability for those locations within the State. There are over five million locations used in the mapping process.
Broadband is defined by the Federal Commissions Commission (FCC) and the State of Georgia as connectivity with a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. Examining connectivity on a county-by-county basis provides more granular data than the FCC’s availability maps, which focuses solely on whether one household is able to be served in a census block. The map brings attention to some of Georgia’s most disconnected areas, a divide that has been exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is perhaps most apparent in the resources available to school-aged children.
The inability for many students to get online during the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates that the digital divide does not discriminate between rural and urban localities. In Georgia nearly 70% of the 507,000 homes and businesses without adequate connectivity were located in rural areas like Savannah, where school busses had to be outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities to help students and teachers have internet access to hold class and complete assignments. In Atlanta, an urban area, parents of students in Atlanta Public Schools released a “Parent Manifesto” demanding stronger strategy to address the digital divide, especially for low-income families.
The introduction of the statewide interactive map is a great starting point for the work that remains to be done so that all Georgians can participate in an increasingly digital and technologically dependent society.