In Washington, a bipartisan majority of Senators recently passed an infrastructure bill that will invest $65 billion to close the digital divide.  For Georgia, this deal is a historic chance to wire every corner of our state and get everyone connected to the innovation economy – deepening our roots as an inclusive and globally-integrated high-tech hub.

Larry K. Williams is the President & CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia.

This agreement is part of a larger national infrastructure plan and is moving its way through  Congress. It expands broadband access, smartly weaving together solutions to both halves of our broadband divide:  infrastructure funding to build networks in unconnected rural areas, and a targeted subsidy to help low-income households in urban areas with monthly broadband costs. Most of the money would be made available through grants to states.

In many cities and even some suburbs, about 25% of residents aren’t connected even though some of the best networks in the world are at their doorstep. In fact, as many as 30% of Georgians aren’t subscribed to any fixed broadband service at home. Even in wealthier communities like Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, and Dunwoody, one in five households are unconnected.

The bill is scheduled for a vote later this month in the House of Representatives, where it still faces pushback.

There is a need for better technology in urban areas, and closing this gap is a top priority for TAG. While good focus has been placed on rural areas, many urban areas also have poor connectivity, and this holds back opportunity and growth in underserved communities.

The Universal Broadband bill is a well-designed plan that wisely builds on the strong foundations already in place. It also aligns with TAG’s priority to make the benefits and opportunities of technology widely available.  We believe technology in general and broadband in particular is a catalyst and enabler of a more equitable, prosperous and sustainable world.  By bridging the digital divide, Universal Broadband would make our economy more inclusive and innovative and provide tremendous value for our growing community of technology businesses.

Broadband providers have invested massively in Georgia over the past generation to build high-speed networks that now reach 91% of homes and businesses statewide. 

In 2018, the state launched the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI). The initiative calls for the promotion and deployment of broadband services throughout the state to unserved areas with a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. The purpose of the GBDI is to coordinate and establish broadband programs to increase economic, education, and social opportunities for Georgia citizens and businesses. The initiative provides for the expansion of broadband infrastructure and services through new state and local broadband planning policies.

Tech innovators have likewise invested in apps, services, and content that drives high bandwidth demand.  For businesses and households who have home broadband service, these fast, resilient networks were a lifeline during COVID. Expanding access will fuel innovation for years to come.

But gaps persist.  

Nearly 10% of Georgia’s homes and businesses still lack access to broadband wires; the bipartisan bill will put these unserved areas at the front of the line.  “Unserved” areas – those with access only to older, slower broadband technologies – will also be eligible to apply for funding after that.   

Many large broadband providers have worked to narrow the “adoption gap” by offering discounted, low-cost service – around $10 to $20 per month – to low-income families. These efforts have moved a remarkable 14 million Americans online. 

The new bill builds on that progress by offering subscription subsidies – a long-term extension of the Emergency Broadband benefit, which passed last December with bipartisan support – to help low-income customers connect.  It also requires participating broadband providers to continue doing their part by offering a low-cost tier of service for families most in need.  The EBB has connected over 3.5 million households in less than three months, so we know it works.

Further, the legislation subsidizes connected devices for those who need them, digital literacy education to close skills gaps, and outreach programs to help reach unconnected Georgians and get them online. We know from experience that discounting the cost of a broadband subscription – or even giving it away for free – isn’t always enough on its own to surmount the many sociological and cultural barriers to broadband adoption.  This broader set of overlapping solutions will help millions overcome these hurdles.

This is a moment for bipartisan leadership and especially innovation. Let’s urge our leaders in Washington to pass legislation that opens the opportunities of the innovation economy for all of us.  

Larry K. Williams is the President & CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia.