ATLANTA - Rural Georgians have complained for years about the lack of broadband connectivity in their communities.

Now, the exact extent of the problem will be known for the first time, thanks to a new broadband availability map published by the state Department of Community Affairs.

The map shows large areas of unserved areas in northeast, north central and northwest Cherokee County, as well as more than a dozen smaller pockets scattered throughout the county.

The General Assembly authorized preparation of the map as- part of legislation passed two years ago aimed at making reliable high-speed internet service more widely available across Georgia.

“This innovative map will enable the private sector to better see where Georgians lack access to high-speed internet, improve open-market competition and help providers explore partnerships to address the connectivity needs of our state,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a prepared statement.

The new map shows clearly the huge disparity between access to high speed internet in metropolitan and rural areas. Of more than 507,000 home and businesses lacking access to reliable broadband service, nearly 70% are in rural parts of Georgia.

With the map about to come online, telecom providers have stepped up their investments in broadband deployment in recent months. Comcast Inc. announced a $9 million investment just last month to expand its internet services to nearly 8,000 homes and businesses in Haralson and Carroll counties in West Georgia.

“Broadband providers are not only key to solving the connectivity issues, but they have also been great partners in developing these maps,” said Calvin Rhodes, executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority.

The lack of adequate internet service in rural Georgia has become particularly glaring during the coronavirus pandemic. Students from rural communities have been forced to travel to the parking lots of closed businesses and libraries during the spring semester to pick up WiFi signals so they could download the online instruction that was replacing in-person classes.

“At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, preliminary mapping data proved extremely useful in supporting [Georgia] Department of Education efforts to ensure student access to Wi-Fi solutions,” said Deana Perry, executive director of the Georgia Broadband program. “The Georgia Broadband office will continue to work closely with communities, providers and state agencies to support effective public-private partnerships aimed at serving those who are currently unserved.”

The new map can be accessed at https://broadband.georgia.gov/maps

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