Social distancing policies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic have caused businesses and schools to conduct their work remotely. For the average Georgian, that isn’t a problem, provided they have access to high speed Internet, but not all Georgians — particularly those in rural areas — have the type of Internet connection that plays nice with Zoom video conferences.
So, what is an employee to do when their boss wants them to attend a video conference? What is a child to do when their teacher wants them to attend a virtual class?
Today, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs launched a new website they hope will inform Georgians about ways to connect to high-speed internet throughout the state.
“The fight against COVID-19 is impacting Georgians’ ability to access healthcare, receive educational instruction, and serve customers in traditional ways,” Kemp said. “High-speed internet is important for Georgians to continue receiving care, learning, and teleworking while they follow guidelines for social distancing. We’re grateful so many internet and mobile phone providers have stepped up to meet Georgians’ connectivity needs in this critical time.”
To support social distancing requirements, broadband providers are offering several options for Georgians to connect to the internet. By visiting broadband.georgia.gov, Georgians can find locations to which they can drive for accessing WiFi around the state, made available from telecommunications cooperatives and government agencies.
Your local library may be one option. While many public libraries are currently closed, some are still offering limited services such as WiFi outside their buildings.
“Georgia’s public libraries have long been a center of learning,” said Julie Walker, Georgia’s State Librarian. “The vast majority of public libraries across the state have WiFi that is free and openly available from the parking lot, often twenty-four hours each day.”
When visiting these public WiFi locations, officials are advising you to stay in your vehicle or otherwise follow the state order to keep a distance of at least six feet away from others. In your search for high speed Internet, state officials expect you to continue to follow social distancing practices to stay safe and healthy.
“Most internet service providers and mobile phone carriers are generously making it easy and free for Georgians to connect to the internet,” said DCA Commissioner Christopher Nunn. “The state is working to assist Georgians in finding these important options.”
On the new DCA website, Georgians can also link to easy-to-use search tools to sign up for low-cost internet service at home. Offers include time-limited free internet services and waiving of disconnect and late fees. Eligibility factors may apply and vary according to internet service providers’ policies.
“Broadband is an essential part of our everyday lives and is an especially vital lifeline to remain healthy and continue working and learning at home,” said Georgia Broadband Deployment Executive Director Deana Perry. “During this unprecedented time, the state has identified existing resources and continues to work on longer-range solutions to get more Georgians connected to high-speed internet.”
“With Georgia’s schools closed through April 24, students who lack internet access are at risk of falling behind,” said Dr. Caitlin Dooley, Georgia Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. “One of the biggest challenges coming to light during the pandemic is the internet connectivity barriers facing rural areas of the state. Internet connectivity for Georgia’s students and teachers is more important than ever. ”
Many of Georgia’s schools are offering free WiFi connectivity to their students in their school’s parking lots. To find out which schools are offering parking lot WiFi, Georgia families are encouraged to contact their local school system.
Internet access is also critical to enable much-needed expansion of telehealth services.
“By informing patients of how to more easily and affordably connect to the internet, healthcare professionals will be able to provide basic medical care to them from remote locations and also offer critical specialty services,” said Suleima Salgado, Director of Telehealth, Telemedicine, and Rural Health Initiatives for the Georgia Department of Public Health.
State officials encourage Georgians to visit the new website frequently, as it will be updated with new information as the state learns of more ways Georgians can connect.