Kemp plows more federal COVID relief money into rural broadband

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday announced another $240 million grant program to provide high-speed internet in rural Georgia, although he did so without mentioning it will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief money.

The state received $4.8 billion from the COVID relief package that congressional Democrats passed in March 2021 over opposition from Republicans, along with other federal funding.

Kemp, a Republican up for reelection this year, was critical of the package as well. He has made criticism of Democratic President Joe Biden one of the cornerstones of his campaign against Stacey Abrams.

Under Georgia law, the governor has sole discretion over how the federal COVID money is spent.

Earlier this year, Kemp announced grants for water and sewer improvements, for high-speed internet projects and money to help businesses and nonprofits better recover from the economic impact of the COVID pandemic.

Kemp also used some of the money to provide bonuses for first responders, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Lawmakers have been working for years to come up with ways to get more high-speed internet to rural Georgia. The lack of broadband services was highlighted during the early days of the COVID pandemic, when schools were shut down and remote learning became the norm.

Kemp on Friday announced that $240 million — on top of an earlier $400 million allocated — would go toward expansion of high-speed internet “through the Capital Projects Fund Grant Program,” which is federally funded.

“Whether you own a small business in rural Georgia, run a farm that utilizes precision agriculture technology or have children that need to do their homework, the expansion of high-speed internet impacts all Georgians,” said Kemp, whose political base is in rural Georgia.

Abrams’ campaign panned Kemp for touting spending he opposed.

“Once again, Georgia Democrats are delivering — while Brian Kemp tries to claim credit,” said Alex Floyd, her spokesman. “Stacey Abrams is proud to have helped (U.S. senators) Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock get elected, and enable the funding that allowed the expansion of rural broadband Kemp’s been attacking for months.”

Companies or communities seeking the money can apply through Kemp’s Office of Planning and Budget.

The governor said by the end of his term the state — aided heavily by the federal government — will have invested nearly $1 billion to expand high-speed internet.