By Tia Lynn Ivey
Morgan County government has hit a dead-end on establishing countywide broadband service. The county has been exploring ways to provide high-speed broadband throughout the county but has yet to discover a feasible way to obtain it. According to Mark Williams, interim county manager, it would cost millions of dollars for the county to install “the middle mile of fiber” throughout the county, and even if they did, local and national carriers are still reluctant to complete the “last mile” of fiber necessary for broadband service from the roadway to a house or business. According to Williams, local and national broadband providers do not want to service smaller cities and towns.
“Some of the giant providers, like AT&T, don’t want to invest in laying cable in Morgan County because they say there’s not enough population density to justify the expense,” explained Williams. “If we were install the majority of the fiber necessary, not only would the cost be enormous, but the broadband providers still would not want to run the fiber from the roadway to the consumer because the population density is still not high enough for them to offset their cost. This isn’t just in Morgan County. This is a universal problem in smaller cities.
Other small communities’ local governments around the country have solved this problem by becoming the broadband providers themselves—treating broadband service like any other utility. But that is not an option for Morgan County because the State of Georgia prohibits local governments from selling broadband to its residents.
“That’s been the best solution in smaller cities, whose states allow them to sell broadband like other utilities. It’s unfortunate for us, because the state prohibits us from getting into the broadband business,” said Williams. These obstacles are disappointing to the county, whose leaders have desired to secure broadband service for residents and businesses.
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) had deemed countywide broadband service as one of the top priorities during their strategic planning retreat earlier this year. The commissioners noted that, “Community-wide Internet broadbanding is an economic development issue. Everybody needs internet and it sometimes determines where people live and where businesses locate.”
“The general consensus is that broadband is as important as electricity and water in economic development and an increasing factor in the housing market,” reported Willaims. But not all hope is lost, according to Williams, who noted there is a glimmer of potential for help from the State of Georgia.
“The issue of broadband came up in the last legislative session. We are hoping to get some help from the state in securing broadband to the county somehow,” said Williams.