State technology plan commission hears testimony at Tellus

October 13, 2011

CARTERSVILLE — Broadband access for rural areas was a major focus of testimony to the Georgia Science and Technology Commission during a public meeting Wednesday at Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.

“The next generation of leaders coming through North Georgia must have connectivity,” said Bruce Abraham, executive director of the North Georgia Network. “If we don’t have the capabilities to support that, we lose our economic development opportunities. It’s as simple as that.”

State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, is a co-chair of the study commission made up of lawmakers and representatives from the public and private sectors.

He said the commission — charged with drawing up a strategic plan for science and technology in Georgia — is holding meetings around the state to get input from experts and users. Its report is due to the Georgia General Assembly in January.

“I think it’s going to result in a new way of thinking in the Legislature,” Loudermilk said. “We’ve got to have business and government working together.”

Panelists from operations including Dalton Utilities, the University System of Georgia, Georgia Public Web and Windstream Corp. spoke about their successes, challenges, future plans and the obstacles they face.

A consistent theme was the need to level the playing field, so small and medium service providers can expand into underserved areas and bring competition into the marketplace.

Government’s overly complicated bid processes and high performance-bond requirements are tough hurdles for local providers to overcome, even when they can offer a better price, said Jim Hendrickson of Georgia Public Web.

“Breaking those barriers down allows everyone to benefit, except the big corporations concentrating only on their profit,” he said.

A workforce with the technical training needed to build, maintain and operate the systems also is in short supply, several speakers said.

Dalton Utilities’ Hank Blackwood said vendors will train crews on their equipment, but many workers can’t transfer that knowledge to a different company’s equipment.

“It’s important to know, when you push that button, why something happens,” he said.

John Scoville of the University System said the need for high-speed Internet access throughout the state will continue to mushroom as its capabilities grow.

The University System interconnects about 120 medical sites with underserved, at-risk areas to provide tools such as remote diagnostics for school nurses and research for rural hospitals, he said.

Its PeachNet system also links rural schools to educational resources, he said, noting a Ware County partnership has students accessing electron microscopes and CERN, the European coalition running the large hadron collider in Switzerland.

The Tellus meeting was the Commission’s fourth since it started hearings in July. Loudermilk said sessions also are scheduled in Macon, Augusta, Columbus and Atlanta.

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