Woodbury is the third community to receive Broadband Ready Community Certification from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). This designation recognizes a city and/or county whose local government has completed the application and demonstrated compliance with the adoption of a local comprehensive plan inclusive of the deployment of broadband services and a Broadband Model Ordinance.
Woodbury Mayor Steve Ledbetter said the city has had one Internet Service Provider (ISP) for the past 20 years. Although they had satisfactory service, Mayor Ledbetter said a need for more advanced services was necessary.
“[The service] is significantly less than the needs of our modern world and adversely impacts small business growth as the speed of service is, at best, DSL speed,” he said. “The slow access is less than 20 Mbps and is fed from the center of town, decreasing in speed as the distance increases from the switch.”
Mayor Ledbetter said the need for broadband affects the city’s ability to grow as well as provide vital access to education, pathways to economic development, and opportunities for families to access social media and entertainment.
“We view this opportunity as a necessity in line with the need for transportation, education, and employment. It’s a race with the ever-increasing need to access available information,” he added.
The process for Woodbury’s certification began in 2019. Carolyn McKinley, Executive Director of the Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce, coordinated a lunch-and-learn with elected officials, Woodbury’s Regional Commission and DCA staff members. Among the topics was legislation on the Achieving Connectivity Everywhere Act and for local communities to begin working toward the Broadband Ready Community Certification.
Kera Summers, Woodbury Development Authority Chairperson, said having access is an attractive asset for potential businesses and residents, and can also improve services current businesses can offer.
Vicky Matthews, owner of Blackbird Café, said insufficient Internet access can result in lost revenue. She has used an iPad point-of-sale system for the past five years to provide a convenient option for her servers to process payments tableside. However, when issues occur such as payments being unable to upload and increased wait times, customers can leave dissatisfied. She said broadband plays a crucial role in rural economic development.
“This designation as a Broadband Ready Community is important to our city because it will help to legitimize the need for our broadband network project in the eyes of those citizens and facilitate additional community support and involvement in our overall revitalization efforts,” Matthews said.
In addition to business, other industries can benefit from broadband access. Summers said, “As more and more healthcare facilities and schools rely on the internet for sharing information, residents will have the ability to receive the information they need in a more reliable and affordable way. I believe it will be a very valuable asset to any city, especially small and/rural cities that are limited or have no options for affordable and reliable broadband access.”
Mayor Ledbetter said the city worked for two years to develop solutions for Internet access, but challenges such as proximity to service and lack of regulatory authority halted progress. However, success came in the form of a test phase of wireless service.
“[We] talked with Amy Carter, Deputy Commissioner, Rural Georgia Initiatives for the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) and Steve Justice, Executive Director at Georgia Centers of Innovation. With their involvement, support, and encouragement, the City pushed forward to install a test phase of our Wireless Internet Service,” Mayor Ledbetter said.
“The test phase consisted of installing a unit at our newly opened Rural Health Clinic, one downtown business, and one downtown resident. After two months of testing, we saw extremely positive results with our utility. In the months that followed, we have installed the antenna on the first of two water towers to offer the service to our community.”
However, he still recognizes a crucial need for more robust access, saying, “Our community is more than ready for the benefits offered from basic high-speed internet access. The opportunity for the city to receive the designation of a Broadband Ready Community with the possibility of asking for state assistance to help us grow our utility is the catalyst that drove us to seek this recognition.”
From the Department of Community Affairs.