One item among the dozens included in a long list of budget goals and strategies developed by Athens-Clarke County’s mayor and commission for the upcoming fiscal year and beyond took on a special urgency Tuesday, as a handful of county residents told the mayor and commission they are concerned about the possibility of losing their Internet access.
Among the goals and strategies set for a final commission vote on March 1 is to “explore the status of Internet access in Athens-Clarke County” in connection with its implications for human and economic development. In meetings on their goals and strategies, commissioners expressed some desire to become familiar with exactly where, and to what degree, Internet access might be problematic in the community, and what the county government might be able to do about those issues.
At their Tuesday agenda-setting meeting, commissioners heard from three county residents who told them their Internet provider indicated it will stop supporting its Direct Subscriber Line service within the next two years. DSL service is the transmission of digital data over ordinary copper telephone lines.
It was unclear to the residents whether that notification meant they would no longer have DSL service at some point, or whether their provider simply would stop addressing any service issues that might arise. In any case, one of those residents, who lives in the Shoal Creek Farms subdivision in the eastern end of the county, was at Tuesday’s meeting to ask the commission for help in getting better Internet access.
“DSL is 20th century,” the man told commissioners. “What we don’t have is 21st century” service.
The residents who came to Tuesday’s meeting acknowledged there were alternatives to their DSL service, but went on to suggest those options were cost-prohibitive.
Taking a first swipe at the issue, commissioners had little advice for the residents except to suggest they get in touch with the local delegation to the state legislature with regard to potential legislation aimed at addressing their Internet service concerns. That suggestion originated with Athens-Clarke County Attorney Bill Berryman, who said changes in federal and state law have left local governments with little power in connection with franchises such as Internet service.
Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson, who has been in touch with people in her eastern Athens-Clarke County district who have concerns about their Internet access, suggested Tuesday that, while the county might not have any direct power in connection with the issue, the local government could serve as a conduit for information, including what alternatives might be available, in order to “save 6,000 people” from having to work through those alternatives individually.