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Internet is too little, too late for rural Georgia

The Rural Development Council, a powerful group of state lawmakers from the Georgia House of Representatives, approved sweeping proposals aimed at bolstering rural Ga. These recommendations could become a reality if enacted by the state Legislature next year.

However, the offer of providing Internet, while helpful in some ways, feels like too little, too late. Rural Georgia’s issues are manifold, including complex layers of problems related to education, health care, workforce training and infrastructure. These problems have been multiplying and growing in complexity as rural Georgia has been ignored by politicians for so long. We can’t just send high-speed internet to struggling rural communities and expect these problems to go away.

Rural Georgia has fewer jobs post-2012 than it did in 2000, according to a report from Georgia State University. Middle class jobs are rapidly disappearing from Georgia, and the significant growth in the service sector is replacing them with low-paying gigs. In rural Georgia, jobs are disappearing, and even years after the recession has subsided in most places, the jobs are not being replaced with anything — not even low-wage jobs.

Rural areas, which are already struggling with high rates of unemployment, are seeing a “talent vacuum” created, virtually ensuring that no new businesses will move in and create jobs.

Over the past few years, state and federal Medicaid and Medicare cuts have drained rural hospitals of the money they need to survive, leading, in part, to the closure of at least eight hospitals. For rural Georgians, hospital closures mean so much more than decreased access to medical care. In many rural communities, the hospital is the main economic engine. When a hospital closes and good-paying jobs disappear, all industries feel the pain.

Rural education systems, which have some of the lowest literacy rates in the country, are decimated by low property values and small school budgets. High transportation costs in education mean less money to spend on vital programs. Lack of close and reliable medical care means missing more school due to illness and checkups. Lack of local technical schools or higher education means decreased access to job programs and training that could get students better jobs or appeal to companies looking for an area to set up shop.

If the state Legislature approves the internet proposals for rural Georgia, it will only be the first of many things needed to improve the economy and living conditions in rural Ga.

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