Kemp awards $408 million in grants to expand internet in rural Georgia

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Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday awarded $408 million from federal coronavirus relief funds to 49 entities to expand high-speed internet access to rural parts of the state.

The Republican governor said electric cooperatives, local governments, cable companies and others who receive the funds will match the spending with $330 million of their own money.

Kemp has decided to spend much of Georgia’s $4.8 billion in federal aid on broadband expansion, water and sewer improvements, and offsetting the negative economic impact of the pandemic. Kemp appointed committees of lawmakers and others to recommend how he should spend the money. The broadband announcement is the first of this money to be spent.

“The projects chosen reflect the greatest needs and interests of hard-working Georgians,” Kemp said Tuesday.

Kemp’s office said the projects awarded Tuesday could connect 132,000, or 27%, of the remaining 482,000 homes and businesses not served by high-speed internet in Georgia. His office said the state could redirect other federal funds to help areas that did not receive some of that money, depending on federal guidelines and the performance of the current round of grant recipients.

The Federal Communications Commission has awarded an additional $326 million to areas with nearly 180,000 locations through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Kemp’s office said the two pots of money could be combined to accelerate the rollout of high-speed internet in many areas.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge hailed the move as the result of a multi-year focus on improving economic and other opportunities in rural parts of the state.

“It’s the kind of day we dreamed of,” Ralston said. “We knew expanding broadband access was key to our rural region’s ability to create jobs. »

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, a Vidalia Republican, hailed the winners for their painstaking work to maximize the money’s reach, saying they “deserved these awards.”

“These are grants and we think grants mean freebies, but that’s definitely not the case,” Tillery said.

Beneficiaries include electricity cooperatives, local governments, cable companies and small telephone companies. The largest grant, $25.4 million, will go to the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, which says it will be able to serve 5,726 locations in Sumter County in southwestern Georgia.

“These dollars will help us tap into those holes where other dollars wouldn’t be available,” said Romanous Dotson, chief executive of Lyon-based Altamaha Electric Membership Corp., which serves parts of seven counties in the southeast Georgia. The co-op gets close to $6 million to serve 2,171 locations.

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