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Broadband expansion gives Gov. Kemp rural toehold

Internet access in rural areas has been a problem for years – the pandemic only magnified the challenges. The issue could make or break Kemp's re-election next year.

ATLANTA — Tens of thousands of central Georgians will get high speed broadband internet, in a deal announced Monday by Governor Brian Kemp.  Rural internet has been a problem for years – and voters lacking it have been looking to the state to help fix it.

Rural Georgia was the key to putting Governor Kemp in office in 2018.  He will need those voters again if he aims to get re-elected next year.

"Good internet is important. In fact, I can’t do my job without it," said Peach County resident Kuumba Rashidi in a 2019 interview with our sister station WMAZ in Macon.  

WMAZ has documented rural broadband woes for years, and chatted with Rashidi in his kitchen by a window overlooking his back yard. 

"I constantly look at the building over there where I’m supposed to be working, where the internet doesn’t work," he chuckled.

Give rural Georgians high speed internet, and they could stay put while connecting to jobs in Atlanta and beyond. Or, they could create businesses they can’t create now.

"It's tied directly into economic development," said former state Rep. Buzz Brockway, who now leads the Georgia Center for Opportunity.  "That could be a real economic boon to rural Georgia in years to come. But a lot of that is predicated on having good internet access."

For Gov. Kemp, it’s also about giving back to a constituency that helped elect him. Though Democrats won statewide races last year, the map still shows Republican red prevailing in rural Georgia. Putting high speed internet in rural Georgia is good business. For Kemp, it's also good re-election politics.

"His strategy for winning (in 2018) was to do really well in rural Georgia, and he did," Brockway said. "That provided the margin for him. And he’s going to have to rely on that again."

Conversely, if Kemp doesn’t keep delivering through next year, it could burn him in rural communities left out of the internet mini-boom. The announcement at the capitol Monday gave the governor almost 40,000 new happy customers.