It's something many of us take for granted.
From the kids’ homework to Neflix to working from home, the internet is a necessity of modern life.
But tens of thousands of people in north Georgia, not too far from Atlanta, still don't have access to reliable internet service.
We're not talking about people living deep in the mountains, but people who are less than an hourlong drive from our midtown Atlanta studios.
Woody’s Pharmacy in Clermont, Georgia, is within sight of Georgia 400, but in recent years has relied on dial-up internet more than once.
“I didn’t even know dial-up still existed,” Channel 2's Justin Gray said.
Most people don’t. But that was how we were surviving,” Kevin Woody said.
At a modern pharmacy, everything from the credit card payments to the prescription verifications gets transmitted online. But none of that works without high-speed internet access.
“We would run a claim and it would kick off three and four times because it was so slow,” Woody said.
Some days the pharmacy ahd to shut its doors because it couldn’t fill prescriptions.
“When you walk into my pharmacy, you have a need -- typically an immediate need,” Woody said.
Tax dollars for rural internet
The Federal Communications Commission says more than 33 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. That's why the U.S. government provides $9 billion in tax dollars over six years to 10 companies for rural internet.
Windstream is one of the biggest recipients of those grants. It gets $175 million of that money annually to provide internet access to rural communities in 17 states -- $25 million for Georgia alone.
For every dollar that we receive from the federal government, we put 10 of our own in the investment,” said J. Berkshire, with Windstream.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga, says he's been receiving complaints about the speed of Windstream service for four years now.
He has concerns about how federal tax dollars are being spent.
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“Do you think taxpayers are getting what they paid for with the funds going to Windstream?” Gray asked. “Right now, in north Georgia, no, they are not. And they can disagree with that all they want,” Collins said.
The FCC defines broadband as 25 megabits per second. But to get the federal dollars, internet companies only have to provide speeds of 10 megabits per second.
“I think it depends of what your definition of high speed to rural communities is,” Berkshire said.
The company's own data shows more than half of its Georgia customers don't even have access to 20 megabit speeds.
“I know my grandmother doesn’t need 10 meg, but my kids need 25 to 50 because of what they want to do with their devices and the streaming video,” Berkshire said.
But in many rural communities, that speed, which Windstream’s Georgia operations president says his family needs, isn’t available.
“Their senior leadership, starting in Arkansas and back into Georgia, are tone-deaf,” Collins said.
But Windstream says this is a logistics issue, and it has met its federal build-out target for 2017.
“The economics of deploying internet to a vast widespread audience is cost-inhibitive,” Berkshire said.
As for Woody’s pharmacy, relief came when a new provider ran a new fiber line north. But other homes and businesses just around the corner are still stuck with slower speeds.
“Many people who are paying for one thing are not getting it,” Collins said.
FCC receiving complaints
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the complaints come in from all across the country.
“The FCC hears you and that is why in the last nine months, this has been our No. 1 issue,” he said. “Going forward, what we've tried to do is reoreint that program, reform it to allow providers to have higher speeds.”
In Congress, Collins has introduced the bipartisan Go Act, which would provide tax credits for businesses who invest in rural internet
“We're trying to take a proactive solution while at the same time holding accountable the federal dollars that are supposed to be going to this,” he said.
In spite of bipartisan support and support from Pai, the Go Act hasn't moved forward so far in the past two sessions of Congress.
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