Broadband service in rural Georgia received a $4.6 million boost when the USDA announced a ReConnect investment in Evans and Tatnall counties in early January. The ReConnect program is a USDA initiative in which a total of $600 million will be allocated for broadband infrastructure expansion in rural America.
According to USDA, the Pembroke Telephone Company, Inc., (PTC) will utilize these funds to deploy fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network in these counties. This high-speed internet implementation will benefit 3,554 individuals, 73 farms, and 19 businesses. This marks the second ReConnect award to PTC; in February 2020, the company received $4 million to expand services in Evans County.
This most recent investment marks the first of 2021 but is among several ReConnect-funded programs in the state. DovTel Communications received $12.5 million for FTTP network deployment in Heard Troup, and Carroll counties. The Ellijay Telephone Company received $4.4 million to construct 90 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in Gilmer County. The Darien Telephone Company received $1 million for high-speed internet deployment in McIntosh County.
In a press release from USDA, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband. … Expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
The Georgia Broadband Availability map, released in July 2021 by the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), revealed 507,000 homes and businesses were lacking reliable broadband services with 70% of those locations in rural communities. DCA continues to provide technical assistance to applicants surrounding USDA Broadband applications.
Additionally, DCA’s Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GDBI) has certified 11 communities as Broadband Ready. This designation recognizes local governments whose leadership has included the deployment of broadband services in its Comprehensive Plan. Evans County, as well as the City of Claxton, is not only Broadband Ready but also represents the first multijurisdictional designation in the state.
Georgia is continuing to move in the right direction regarding the progress of broadband access, according to Deana Perry, GDBI executive director. She said, “The last 10 months have illustrated what many have known for much longer: The digital divide is a detriment to thousands of Georgia families as well as the economy, education and healthcare systems, and other vital entities which affect us all. The USDA ReConnect program is a boon to Evans and Tatnall counties and will vastly enhance the quality of living, learning, and conducting business.”
She continues: “As local leaders continue to mobilize and prioritize broadband for the good of their communities, our state will reap the benefits of better-connected individuals, families, and institutions.” For more information, visit www.broadband.georgia.gov or email Broadband@dca.ga.gov.