by Nyamekye Daniel
Tens of thousands of rural Georgians are expected to gain access to high-speed internet under a private-sector partnership announced Monday by Gov. Brian Kemp and other state leaders.
The partnership between the Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation (CGEMC), Southern Rivers Energy (SRE) and Conexon will serve 18 counties and provide broadband internet access to 80,000 homes and businesses, Kemp said.
“The announcement we are making today will have a real impact on the lives of countless hardworking Georgians,” Kemp said. “With expanded broadband access comes new job opportunities, improved education tools and access to telemedicine.”
Fiber broadband provider Conexon has agreed to design and build a 6,890-mile fiber network that would upgrade electric service and provide high speed internet access within the next four years, starting in June. The two electric corporations will own the fiber and lease excess capacity to Conexon, officials said.
The partnership includes a capital investment of more than $210 million, including $1.3 million in incentives from Monroe County. The CGEMC vowed to invest $135 million, SRE will invest $53 million and Conexon will contribute $21.5 million under the agreement.
The fiber network also will connect Georgians in Bibb, Butts, Clayton, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Meriwether, Morgan, Newton, Pike, Putnam, Spalding and Upson counties.
Kemp signed Senate Bill 2 in 2019 to allow electric membership corporations and their affiliates to provide broadband internet services. Other partnerships have been formed since the legislation passed, connecting thousands of other Georgians, officials said.
“This is an important leap forward, but make no mistake: we are just getting started,” Kemp said.
Kemp’s amended budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 includes $20 million in rural broadband grants for 2021 and $10 million each year going forward. He also vowed to continue working with General Assembly leaders, who joined him Monday, to provide more access and opportunities in rural areas.
“When we think about creating economic opportunity for all Georgians, broadband access is a foundational component of that success,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said. “Internet is the interstate of today’s world, and we cannot reach our full potential if our students, entrepreneurs and medical providers don’t have access to that digital highway.”
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Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel’s work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times. Daniel is a staff reporter for The Center Square.