Like it or not, our economy is heavily dependent on electronic communications. Our communications infrastructure is a critical part of what makes the wheels of commerce turn.
That’s especially true in an economy where more and more people are using credit and debit cards rather than cash and where online commerce is growing. Without electronic communications and the broadband lines that carry it, everything from pumping gas to buying a sandwich to paying routine bills would come to a halt.
In addition, a lot of high-tech firms have subcontractors do work from home. Those individuals depend on a good broadband connection to do their jobs.
Unfortunately for a large swath of Northeast Georgia, this broadband communications link is almost totally dependent on one monopolistic company, Windstream. And for too many customers, dealing with Windstream has been like riding a 19th Century horse-and-buggy down a 21st Century highway.
Last week, Windstream was fined $600,000 by the Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection over allegations of false advertising. The company has been promising fast Internet connection speeds, but delivering much slower connections to many users in Georgia.
That doesn’t surprise many of those who routinely twiddle their thumbs while waiting on Windstream’s connection to deliver. All too often, the speeds delivered by the company are nowhere near what was promised or that consumers are paying for.
And the downtimes are maddening. Our main office in Jefferson was down recently for 24 hours during the week. In an economy that operates in seconds, being unable to connect to the Internet for a full day puts everything at a standstill. No work can get done.
All of this means that places where Windstream has a monopoly on Internet connections are at a crucial disadvantage in the economic development game.
In many other ways, Northeast Georgia is a great place for companies to locate: We have institutions of higher education; we are within an hour or so of the Atlanta airport; and we have good roads connecting to a major interstate that bisects this region.
What we don’t have, however, is a good electronic highway with dependable, fast connections to the Internet. We are hamstrung by a company that offers poor service at high prices with virtually no other alternatives in the marketplace.
Because of the economic development issues at stake, it’s time for the county and city governments in Northeast Georgia to get organized and active on this issue.
City and county leaders should collectively let Windstream know they are unhappy with the sorry service the company is providing and should also actively pursue bringing in competition against the firm. Nothing will change until a competitor starts taking away customers from Windstream.
Windstream’s Internet service in Northeast Georgia is little more than a digital dirt road. It’s time the leaders of our communities fight back and demand fast, reliable and cheaper 21st Century broadband access.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.