Only 30% of residents in Colquitt County have internet access, according to Melissa Lawson, county clerk. Therefore, the Broadband Ready certification is a major step toward connectivity in an agriculture-based community. Cities and counties with this Broadband Ready designation have completed the online application and demonstrated compliance with the adoption of both a Comprehensive Plan, inclusive of the promotion of deployment broadband services, and the Broadband Model Ordinance.
“We understand the challenges associated with bringing broadband to rural areas,” Lawson said, explaining the County’s pursuit of the certification. “As a result, we wanted our county to be in a position to take advantage of grants and initiatives to assist in bringing broadband infrastructure to our area. We also want to be in a good position to expand and build upon that infrastructure.”
Lawson said connectivity issues have been communicated from rural areas. She said, “Here there is connectivity, speed is the main issue.” County leadership focused on broadband by amending the Comprehensive Plan to include a broadband element.
In a community with limited internet access, Lawson said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted this discrepancy, especially once virtual learning was required. However, she is certain broadband will narrow the gap.
“Before the pandemic, virtual learning was and will continue to become more and more popular. Broadband will facilitate access to education and health care for our rural citizens that would otherwise be forced to travel long distances for traditional, on campus college courses and medical treatment,” she said. “Embracing technology and doing all in our power to facilitate broadband in our community will only contribute to and enhance economic growth and development, allowing us to become more competitive in our region.”
She encourages other local government officials to apply for the designation in order to encourage and compete for economic growth and development as well as enhance access to educational opportunities and healthcare. Lawson adds, “Colquitt County will always strive to provide resources to enhance the quality of life for our citizens. We believe that broadband access is one of these resources.”