The City of Woodbury marked the third community – and first city – to receive recognition for the Broadband Ready Community designation from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). At a reception on Jan. 28, city officials and DCA staff celebrated this achievement.
Mayor Steve Ledbetter said it was an outstanding day for the entire community. He recalled how Woodbury only had one internet service provider for many years and the challenges that stemmed from those limitations.
“This is an opportunity for us to really come together as a community and ask for support from our state via Broadband Ready Designation,” he said. “We’ve needed broadband in our community for so many reasons.”
Economic growth, education and families are a few of the areas he listed as being affected by a lack of access to internet. Mayor Ledbetter said he views broadband as a necessity in line with long-term needs of the city such as transportation, education and employment.
He and other officials began the application process in 2019. He said Carolyn McKinley, executive director of the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce, coordinated a lunch-and-learn event with elected officials, Woodbury regional commission and DCA staff members where they discussed the ACE Act. This legislation, passed in the 2017-18 session, focused on access to broadband services across Georgia.
The mayor also further illustrated the point about the significance of broadband. Healthcare access was limited in Woodbury, and the city council reached out to local providers for a partnership.
“We did not have a doctor here. We had to go to Warm Springs, LaGrange, Thomaston, Newnan or Fayetteville for our doctors,” he said. “That was a little bit disheartening for us.”
However, Woodbury celebrated the opening of a rural health clinic in 2019. Mayor Ledbetter said, “The reason they came is because broadband internet was becoming available to us. As a city, we put together a utility to offer broadband to our local community.”
Additional partnerships with entities such as Spectrum Enterprises, LigoWave, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Centers of Innovation were instrumental in Woodbury’s success with securing this designation. The mayor said another meeting in September 2019 involved approximately 30 people whose purpose was to understand how they could collectively build a system that could afford communities to have broadband internet.
“The opportunity for this city to receive the designation with the possibility of asking the state for assistance to grow our utility is the catalyst to drive our next position,” he said. “It doesn’t stop with Woodbury – people are asking for this. It is important to help the people around us.”
Max Kirby, field rep for Rep. Drew Ferguson, said Georgia’s 3rd congressional district representative is fighting across D.C. to make sure people have access to broadband. Kirby said broadband is something he even took for granted and recalled taking trips to coffee houses in order to access the internet for work.
“Critical infrastructure is something we have to have to grow rural economies,” Kirby said. “People should have the same opportunities as those in larger cities.”
Deana Perry, DCA’s Executive Director of Broadband, said Georgia’s leaders understand that internet access is a statewide issue that also connects people. She commended Mayor Ledbetter and other local leaders for taking the steps to make Woodbury the first city with the DCA designation.
“The City of Woodbury is a prime example of being an ecosystem of partners,” Perry said. “It signals to interested providers that communities are expansion-ready.”
She added, “I look at the City of Woodbury as a model of what cities can do and take the initiative. While the issues are not unique, the partnerships and actions you have taken are unique.”
Mayor Ledbetter added, “This means a lot to us. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point.”