AARP Georgia Works to Boost Rural Internet Connection with Help from Infrastructure Funds

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Things in Georgia are likely to pick up a bit for some digital tech users.

Proponents of expanding high-speed internet in the state, which has already made major investments in the sector, hope an imminent infusion of federal infrastructure funds will fill lingering accessibility gaps.

The $65 billion earmarked for broadband internet projects in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill represents a historic opportunity, said Coralette Hannon, senior legislative representative in AARP’s National Office Government Affairs Department. .

“States are going to play a critical role in getting us to the finish line,” Hannon said.

The bulk of the infrastructure money, about $42.5 billion, will go to states, territories and Washington, DC. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million, with the balance allocated based on need. Georgia could see about $1.1 billion, according to an estimate from New York Law School.

Overall, Southeastern states lag behind national averages in high-speed (also known as broadband) Internet access. While 98.1% of urban Georgians have such coverage, only 81% of rural residents do.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 654,000 Georgians are missing out on high-speed service because it is unavailable. (Independent estimates put the number much higher.) Others have access to coverage but cannot afford it.

“With a slower pace of life, you don’t want to give up access to the world,” says Debra Tyler Horton, state director for AARP Georgia.

States distribute new funds

States have started planning their broadband investments and consumers could see improvements in 2023.

AARP Georgia has worked with lawmakers and state officials to educate older Americans about the importance of fast Internet access for telehealth, education, social interaction, business opportunity, and life. daily.

“The pandemic has shown us how dependent many of us are on our internet connections,” says Hannon. “It’s no longer a luxury.

Affordability is another major concern. Monthly broadband bills, new customer fees and equipment costs could be prohibitive for many adults on fixed incomes, says Tyler Horton.

AARP Georgia plans to work with partners to promote enrollment in the Federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers low-income consumers up to $30 per month off their internet bill and up to $100 off on buying a computer. (Eligibility details and application information are at aarp.org/acp and fcc.gov/acp.)

The state’s AARP office also plans to advocate for digital skills education and cybersecurity to keep people safe online. Ideally, broadband internet improvements will extend beyond individual internet users to benefit the entire Southeast region, says Tyler Horton.

“With our beautiful climates and small, beautiful communities, we make great places to retire,” she says. “But if we want to be competitive for snowbirds, we need modern equipment. And broadband is a big part of that.

AARP’s Personal Technology Resource Center provides information on aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology. For FCC Broadband Frequently Asked Questions, go to fcc.gov/connected.

Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland.

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