$15M Internet deal in Stockbridge touted as “game-changer” for Southside

Stockbridge businesses, government offices, schools, hospitals and homes — and ultimately Henry County — will get state-of-the-art high-speed Internet capacity under a $15 million deal city officials say will be an economic “game-changer” for the Southside.

The City Council unanimously approved a plan Monday night to give nonexclusive rights to Savannah-based Community Broadband LLC to develop, build and run a fiber optic network supported by a 206-mile fiber optic backbone that, according to the head of Community Broadband, will have more Internet capacity than any other network in the Southeast.

The project initially will create 38 jobs in Stockbridge, essentially workers to build and run the network. But its backers anticipate a ripple-effect in job creation on the Southside: As businesses become better connected, they’ll become more competitive and able to add workers.

“This is going to put Stockbridge on the forefront of economic development on the Southside of Atlanta,” Stockbridge City Manager David Milliron said.

The project is slated to be up and running next summer. It is not expected to cost the city any taxpayer dollars, as Community Broadband is making the $15 million investment, Mayor Mark Alarcon said.

The Stockbridge network will link into 56 Marietta Street, a downtown facility considered the largest fiber optic network hub in the Southeast with more than 35,000 connections, said Allen Davis, Community Broadband’s president and chief executive officer. Businesses will pay for the service based on need and capacity, Davis said.

Stockbridge economic development director B.J. Mathis said the project will help the city attract more businesses because the bar for better broadband has been raised. Stockbridge's project will likely rival programs like the one in Alpharetta, which Mathis said has been a metro Atlanta leader in state-of-the-art broadband services. Mathis, a former County Commission chairperson, said the Stockbridge deal mirrors one Henry County had considered for several years, but which never materialized.

The city’s broadband capacity has been spotty and not up to par for many businesses that need fast connections to send large volumes of data around the country and overseas.    Broadband is touted as an attractive economic development tool and is one reason Stockbridge officials say the deal will change the town’s economic landscape.

“This is going to be ground zero. This is a a game-changer,” Alarcon told residents attending the Stockbridge council meeting Monday night.

“It’s certainly going to improve access to very important data,” said Jeff Cooper, chief operating officer at Piedmont Henry Hospital, who attended a pre-council meeting reception Monday announcing the project.

Under the deal, some 5,300 commercial businesses and schools will have access to better broadband capacity that’s 100 times faster than most home broadband connections, according to the mayor.

The deal has been in the works since March and was finalized late last week.