Joyce White, the state director for rural development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announces a $4.4 million award to bring high-speed internet to more than 2,159 homes in North Georgia on Feb. 7. She’s surrounded by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, Sen. Steve Gooch and Georgia Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Christopher Nunn. Photo: USDA

Feds award $4.4M for high-speed internet in North Georgia community

Federal money to bring fast internet to a rural community has arrived in a $4.4 million grant, the first time the government has picked a Georgia project to receive a share of $600 million worth of funding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that the money will go to the Ellijay Telephone Co., which will build 90 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in Gilmer County in North Georgia, serving more than 2,100 households and 22 poultry farms.

Georgia legislators have debated for years how to extend internet service to about 1.6 million residents who lack access to high-speed connections for small businesses, farmers, schools and hospitals.

But money for internet construction has been lacking.

The state government is creating a map of every location in the state without high-speed internet, an effort that will identify areas that could receive future funding.

“The funding from USDA illustrates the importance of investing in progress,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement. “Broadband access will not only boost the local economy in Ellijay, but it will also enhance the quality of life for families in that community.”

The USDA last year awarded a $14.3 million loan to Forsyth CableNet to finance internet construction in Monroe County.

The grant in Gilmer County comes from the USDA’s $600 million ReConnect program, authorized by Congress in 2018. An additional $550 million in ReConnect funding will be available this year.

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