Photo: Brittany Shadix, The West Georgian

The Digital Uprising During COVID-19

When classes went completely online last spring, UWG Online and UWG Information Technology were able to accommodate students who relied heavily on campus internet by providing MiFi devices and free Wi-Fi access points. Data from UWG Online shows that the department received approximately 200 inquiries related to internet access, and 30 emergency MiFi devices have been distributed since the spring of last year. However, short-term, temporary accommodations are not sustainable for the increase in reliance on high-speed internet.

            “Limited access to the internet makes completing my assignments and schoolwork online more difficult,” said UWG student, Cierrah Dedman, who lives off-campus. “To get my work done, I have to carve out specific times to either travel into town and go to a coffee shop or go to my parent’s house to use their internet. I stay out of my house most days since there is no internet connection available.”

In wake of the ongoing pandemic, a light has been shone on the digital divide across the country. As schooling and working from home have become a common practice that will likely remain the norm, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Recently Carroll Electric Membership Cooperative (EMC) and broadband provider SyncGlobal Telecom have teamed together to fix this issue by creating a fiber optic network in order to help bridge the digital divide.

Upon completion of the first phase of fiber deployment, the service from SyncGlobal Telecom will be available to more than 9,000 homes and businesses in parts of Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties affecting UWG stakeholders.

“Our broadband project will allow for students to have legitimate broadband and manage schoolwork or remote jobs,” said Vice President of Communications and Economic Development for Carroll EMC, Jay Gill. “Not only does SyncGlobal Telecom and Carroll EMC serve the campus of UWG, but many of the students live off-campus and are non-traditional or commute. People don’t always realize you can travel half a mile and be in a rural area with no internet access whatsoever.”

In 2019, the cooperative helped fund a statewide study after hearing pleas from its members to bring broadband to the seven-county service territory. The study revealed 66% of rural Georgians, including two-thirds of Carroll EMC’s 52,000 members, did not have access to broadband connections or adequate internet speeds. While internet providers are slow to update their systems and build their networks outside of urban areas, the Carroll EMC knew it had to be the solution for broadband just as it had been for electricity in 1936. According to Gill, there is no service around that compares to the broadband option coming to the area. 

“We won’t have to explain the difference,” said Gill. “People are living with services that can’t stay connected or can barely download an email. I believe they understand just how bad their existing service is. Anything that promises to stream a service and run an email application at the same time is life-changing for some.

“Concern for the community is one of the most important of the seven cooperative principles,” continued Gill. “The digital divide is real, significant and causing problems between rural and urban America. Power cooperatives are one of the only utilities with facilities throughout rural America. We realize that without our help, broadband will never reach those in need.”

The fiber project was announced early last summer and is expected to begin very soon as the companies finalize details. With the ability to maximize user capacity and eliminate overcrowding, the advanced fiber technology will offer up to one GP internet speed. Serviced by SyncGlobal Telecom on Carroll EMC utility poles, the future proof material has the capability to support and adapt to advancing technologies for years to come unlike any copper wire service currently available from cable companies.

“It is the ideal relationship,” said Gill. “We are both local companies run by local residents. Our corporate values and mission align, and our collective goal is to serve our neighbors and the communities we live in. It will be a great, long-term relationship.”



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