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Broadband is 1st topic for special House rural council

May 22, 2017 GMT

The House Rural Development Council plans a comprehensive focus on broadband during its first session, set for today and Tuesday in Tifton.

“Broadband is a very important issue for those places that don’t have it. It’s critical for business and industry, and that ties in to so many other problems,” said Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armu­chee, one of 15 lawmakers appointed to the council by state House Speaker David Ralston.

A total of 10 meetings are scheduled around the state through December, with the Northwest Georgia session set for Aug. 15 and 16 in the Dalton area. Among the other issues they’ll explore are education, workforce development, population loss, access to healthcare and transportation.

“It’s a tale of two Georgias,” Lumsden said. “The economy has improved, Georgia’s growing population-wise and many places … are seeing activity. In other places, they’re losing people and they’re losing jobs because they don’t have the necessary infrastructure.”

The first day in Tifton will feature presentations on how the economic viability of rural Georgia affects the state, and how broadband — or the lack of it — is affecting rural Georgia.

Along with experts from University of Georgia think tanks, the council also will hear from two speakers with real-world experience outside the state’s urban hubs. David Bridges, president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, plans to offer “Perspective from Below the Gnat Line,” and political pundit Charlie Hayslett is on tap for “Trouble in God’s Country.”

The agenda for Day Two will delve into the current broadband situation, the challenges of connecting outlying areas and how other states are handling it. The review of other states is slated to be presented by former Rome News-Tribune reporter Blake Doss, who now works for the House Budget and Research Office.

Lumsden said the council will be hearing from a range of public and private entities, with an eye to recommending changes to state laws or regulations next year.

“We want to find out what the challenges are, what would be helpful to make those things happen,” he said. “We’re looking to see what we need to do from a legislative standpoint to reverse that (two-Georgias) trend and bring some prosperity to other parts of the state.”

The sessions will be livestreamed via a link on the Council’s web page, found under the “special and study committees” section at house.ga.gov. Viewers also can sign up to be notified in advance of the subsequent sessions. The presentations and documents also are expected to be posted on the site.