Solution for Monroe Co. internet problems could depend on upcoming SPLOST vote

With decisions on SPLOST coming up, some say that a solution Monroe County's internet problem looks unlikely - with the funds possibly being used for more traditional projects like fire and sheriff's needs instead.Evan Watson (WGXA)

MONROE COUNTY, Ga. -- People living in rural areas of Monroe County say slow and inconsistent internet access is hurting their children's education, business growth and quality of life.

In May, Monroe County commissioners said they may look to SPLOST funds to improve internet connection throughout the county.

For some families, it can take 10 minutes to download a song, and more than an hour to download a video - which can create problems for students trying to work on school assignments.

Even with paying for high-speed internet, the problems have been a major complaint of county residents for the past year.

With decisions on SPLOST coming up though, some say that a solution the area's internet problem looks unlikely - with the funds possibly being used for more traditional projects like fire and sheriff's needs instead.

County commission chairman George Emami said he supports using SPLOST funds to boost internet coverage by laying cable.

"Every solution requires fiber of some kind. To me, it's just smart to build that infrastructure and start doing it now," said Emami.

SPLOST funds have traditionally been used for things like roads and water connections. Some commissioners are unsure about using that money on a new and untested internet solution.

"We need to prioritize those fire, sheriff, road, recreation, water - and then we look at other opportunities," Emami said.

Jordan Harbin owns a downtown Forsyth electronic repair shop called Harbin Repairs. He said people complain to him about slow internet speeds almost every day.

"Businesses are having a hard time staying up here because they can't get good internet," said Harbin.

The situation also presents uneven opportunities - nearby counties that have higher speeds means they also have an upper hand.

"When they have better internet access and we don't, they are at an advantage compared to we are and we're just stuck in the past pretty much," Harbin said.

The commission chairman sees benefits to using SPLOST funds to fix the internet problem, but he needs to convince other commissioners before SPLOST decisions are made later in July.

"Property values go up in a good way, people get their solutions, it's great for economic development. There are so many wins if we're able to make this work, but I'm afraid that if we don't get any funding for it we won't know if it will work or not," he said.

If commission chooses not to use SPLOST funds on fiber cable lines for internet access, commissioner Eddie Rowland said they'll keep talking with current internet service providers.

"It's disappointing because the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen in terms of internet and speed," Emami said.

The commission will meet Monday, July 23 at 8:30 a.m. to talk about the 2020 SPLOST.

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