May 29, 2024 10:58 am
Close this search box.

Local News

Federal Coronavirus Relief Aid To Deliver $250 Million To Help Bridge Georgia’s Digital Divide

Credit: iStock

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder

Dozens of Georgia counties with spotty access to high-speed internet will be eligible for a $250 million pot of grant funding available through last year’s federal pandemic relief aid.

Georgia’s U.S. senators promoted the funding Thursday, saying the money could boost connections for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in rural areas of the state.

“This is vital for small businesses, for farmers, for schools and families, for kids doing schoolwork in the afternoons at home, for all of us, for our state’s prosperity, to move toward universal access to high-speed internet,” Sen. Jon Ossoff said during a virtual press conference.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is locked in a tight race for a full six-year term, said in a statement that “broadband expansion is crucial to keeping Georgia’s economy moving forward.” 

The grant funding was included in the American Rescue Plan Act, which was last spring’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

A sudden shift to digital learning at home early in the pandemic cast a glaring light on the uneven access to high-speed internet across the state. At the time, state officials identified nearly 136,000 unserved student households.

But state leaders have long wrangled with ways to improve broadband access in more sparsely populated communities.

A state report released last year found a slight decline in the number of people struggling with access to reliable high-speed internet, leaving about 9% of communities in Georgia unserved. 

“However, there are still 482,374 locations that lack access to acceptable quality broadband, so there is much work yet to be done,” according to the 2021 report from the state Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Technology Authority. 

And for about 13% of Georgia households, download speeds of about 100 megabits per second remain elusive, according to mapping through the Federal Communications Commission. 

The federal grant funding will be awarded to service providers in mostly rural counties through a state-run Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund program. The governor’s Office of Planning and Budget is handling the applications. Gov. Brian Kemp announced the aid in the fall without tying the funding to the federal coronavirus relief bill.

“We will be watching carefully to ensure that the state of Georgia implements this program in a way that is a responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars and that is consistent with our intent in law to bring high-speed internet access to the parts of our state where it’s lacking,” Ossoff said. 

This story was written by Jill Nolin, a contributor the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia Supreme Court justices appear skeptical of Athens DA’s claim of open records exemption

In an upcoming ruling, Georgia’s Supreme Court will weigh in on a claim brought by Athens-Clarke District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, arguing that top prosecutors are exempt from the state’s open records laws. The case involves assertions that the trial court overlooked a constitutional provision in denying Gonzalez’s motion to dismiss an open records complaint, mirroring similar immunity arguments made by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in a separate case related to the 2020 presidential election interference.

CNN sets first Biden-Trump presidential debate for June 27 in Atlanta

CNN announced today that it will host a debate between President Joe Biden and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the network’s Atlanta studios on June 27, with no audience present. Both candidates have agreed to participate, marking a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the November election as they engage in direct exchanges over key issues.

Georgia public colleges to expand admissions testing requirements for fall 2026

Georgia colleges are reverting to requiring standardized test scores for all new applicants, signaling a shift from pandemic-era policies. Beginning in fall 2026, institutions including Augusta University, The University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech will mandate SAT or ACT scores, a decision unanimously approved by the Georgia Board of Regents.