WARNER ROBINS — More than 100 elected officials, executives, and state and federal representatives gathered in Warner Robins last week at the Cary W. Martin Conference for the Georgia Municipal Association’s statewide Rural Broadband Summit. The meeting, which was also supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, provided attendees an inside look at several approaches underway in Georgia to address the broadband needs of rural communities.

“In today’s world, broadband service has become a necessity — as important as water, gas and electricity — but the USDA estimates that 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable high-speed internet are in rural areas,” GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson commented on the importance of broadband to rural Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., charged city officials and staff attendees to work together and foster partnerships to address broadband issues across the state.

“Broadband is much more than sending emails — it’s everything we do in life, including health care and education,” Scott said. “The solution to broadband access for the people that you represent is going to come at the state and local levels.”

Following Scott’s remarks, the first summit panel recapped its broadband success since the inaugural 2018 GMA Rural Broadband Summit. Municipal leaders also gained innovative ideas from the Smart City Planning panel where Farhad Islam, the city of East Point's IT director, and Stephen Stewart, Broadband and Smart City Advisor, eX2 Technology LLC were participants.

Deana Perry, executive director of broadband for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, provided an inside look into the state’s new broadband mapping program, which she described as “one-of-a-kind-mapping." Perry also shared other tools available to rural Georgians, including steps to being considered a broadband-ready community.

The summit concluded with a presentation on funding, partnership and development opportunities from Jonathan Corso from the U.S. Economic Development Administration's Atlanta regional office; Michael W. Burns, Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4/CUPP program manager; and Scott Woods, NTIA, who also discuss funding opportunities available through USDA.

Summit sponsors were the Atlanta Engineering Group, Corning, Foresite Group, Point Broadband, Vantage Point and Wireless Tower Solutions.

Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, nonprofit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and consulting services to all of Georgia’s 538 cities.

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