Fast, rural internet to be built by Middle Georgia power companies

Gov. Brian Kemp applauds while speaking Monday during a press conference about expanding rural internet access in Georgia at the Capitol in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Gov. Brian Kemp applauds while speaking Monday during a press conference about expanding rural internet access in Georgia at the Capitol in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /”

Georgia government leaders and power companies announced plans Monday to build high-speed internet lines that will reach 80,000 homes and businesses in Middle Georgia, a major inroad into rural areas that lack online access.

The construction will be the largest expansion of internet service since the Georgia General Assembly passed a law in 2019 allowing local electric membership corporations to offer broadband along with power.

Beginning as soon as this summer, fiber internet service with speeds up to 1 gigabit per second will be offered by Central Georgia EMC and Southern Rivers Energy. The project is expected to be completed within four years.

“This announcement represents the best of rural Georgia and what can happen here in the Peach State — EMCs, private partners and community leaders working together on creative solutions to close the gap between those with internet service and those without,” Gov. Brian Kemp said during a Capitol press conference.

Lawmakers have emphasized efforts to wire the state for several years as online service has become more essential to businesses, health care and education, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

About 507,000 Georgia homes and businesses lack access to adequate internet speeds, representing 11% of the state, according to a map that shows internet gaps.

Kemp has proposed that the state start funding internet expansion, with $20 million in his budget recommendation for this fiscal year and $10 million next year. The money would be awarded in the form of grants to rural communities.

“For rural Georgia to move forward, we had to have access to high-speed broadband,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “Whether it is telemedicine online learning or e-commerce, high-speed broadband is a critical infrastructure need.”

The Middle Georgia internet lines would reach locations in 18 counties in partnership with a broadband company called Conexon.

The project will cost over $210 million, including investments of $135 million by Central Georgia EMC, $53 million by Southern Rivers Energy and $21.5 million by Conexon.

Construction will start in Monroe County and then branch outward to its neighbors, Monroe Commission Chairman Greg Tapley said.

“Our residents would bring up, ‘We’re in the dark ages. Two cans connected with a string would be faster than what we have. It’s an internet desert out here,’” Tapley said. “We’ve been able to create an oasis of internet service, and it’s not going to be a mirage.”

The internet lines will be built in Bibb, Butts, Clayton, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Pike, Putnam, Spalding and Upson counties.

Internet expansion in Georgia

  • Eight electric membership corporations, including the two announced Monday, have sought to offer internet service since a state law allowed it in 2019.
  • About 11% of residential and business locations in Georgia lack access to adequate internet service, defined as 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budgets include $30 million in government funding for rural internet, which would be the first time the state will have spent money for online construction.