Multiple rural Georgia internet projects announced
Residents in 26 Georgia counties will soon benefit from enhanced internet connectivity as EMCs, medical providers and federal agencies recently announced partnerships and funding for multiple projects in Georgia.
On Feb. 8, Central Georgia EMC (Jackson, GA) and Southern Rivers Energy (Barnesville, GA) unveiled their a new partnership with Conexon to provide high-speed internet to 80,000 homes and businesses in 18 Middle Georgia counties: Bibb, Butts, Clayton, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Pike, Putnam, Spalding, and Upson.
The partnership includes a capital investment of more than $210 million overall. Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) will invest $135 million, Southern Rivers Energy (SRE) will invest $53 million, and Conexon will contribute $21.5 million. Monroe County has also committed $1.3 million in local funds to incentivize the EMCs to start their projects in Monroe County.
Under terms of the agreement, the EMCs will partner with Conexon, a full-service fiber broadband provider, to design and build a 6,890-mile fiber network that will serve two strategic purposes: provide improved electric service and increased reliability through smart grid capabilities, and provide high-speed internet access to all 80,000 of the two EMCs’ members within the next four years, beginning as early as June 2021. Conexon works exclusively with electric cooperatives and is considered one of the pioneers in the electric cooperative broadband movement.
The two EMCs will own the fiber and lease excess capacity to Conexon which has agreed to serve every EMC member with fiber-to-the-home internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. The internet service will be powered by EMC fiber, but Conexon will provide the retail service to homes and businesses, managing account set-up, customer service and billing.
On Jan. 15, the FCC announced an initial set of 14 pilot projects as a part of its Connected Care Pilot Program. A total of $26.6 million will be awarded to these applicants for proposed projects to treat nearly half a million patients in both urban and rural parts of the country. Overall, this Pilot Program will make available up to $100 million over a three-year period for selected pilot projects for qualifying purchases necessary to provide connected care services, with a particular emphasis on providing connected care services to low-income and veteran patients.
Included in the pilot funding recipients was Phoebe Putney Health System in Southwest Georgia, which requested $673,200 to provide patient-based Internet-connected remote monitoring, video visits, and remote treatment for low-income patients suffering from chronic conditions or mental health conditions. These projects plan to serve an estimated 4,007 patients, approximately 1,000 of which will be low-income patients in six sites serving southwest Georgia.
Phoebe providers participating in the project are: Phoebe Worth Medical Center – Camilla Clinic; Phoebe Physicians Group Inc. – PPC of Buena Vista, Buena Vista; Phoebe Physicians Group – Ellaville Primary Medicine Center, Ellaville; Phoebe Family Medicine & Sports Medicine, Americus; Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Albany; Phoebe Family Medicine – Sylvester, Sylvester.
The Pilot Program will use Universal Service Fund monies to help defray the costs of connected care services for eligible health care providers, providing support for 85% of the cost of eligible services and network equipment, which include: (1) patient broadband Internet access services; (2) health care provider broadband data connections; (3) other connected care information services; and (4) certain network equipment.
These pilot projects will address a variety of critical health issues such as high-risk pregnancy, mental health conditions, and opioid dependency, among others.
On Jan. 7, the USDA announced a $4.6 million grant to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Southeast Georgia. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.
Pembroke Telephone Company Inc. will use a $4.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This network will connect 3,554 people, 73 farms and 19 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Evans and Tattnall counties in Georgia.
In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.
USDA received 11 Round Two ReConnect Program applications that are eligible for the $100 million Congress allocated to the program through the CARES Act.
To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.