FILE - Rural broadband

Earth digger used to help lay cables for rural broadband connection.

(The Center Square) – Thousands of rural Georgians are expected to gain access to high-speed internet under a private-sector partnership announced Friday by Gov. Brian Kemp and other state and locals leaders.

The partnership between the Washington EMC and Conexon Connect will provide broadband access to more than 12,000 homes and businesses in Baldwin, Emanuel, Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Johnson, Laurens, Warren, Washington and Wilkinson counties.

“As you all know, the lack of reliable internet access in rural communities has been a big issue for our state for a long time now,” Kemp said Friday during a news conference in Tennille. “Without question, the lack of internet access became even more problematic during our fight with COVID-19 as all Georgians and Americans had to adjust to the new normal. Many rural communities faced additional connectivity challenges that made it harder to receive medical care, participate in virtual learning, or even, and as importantly, keep in touch with loved ones, and it goes without saying the more work must be done to ensure that all Georgians have equal opportunities, regardless of their ZIP code.”

Fiber broadband provider Conexon plans to design and build a 3,000-mile fiber network to upgrade electric service and provide high-speed internet access within the next three years, starting in the first quarter of 2022.

The partnership includes a capital investment of more than $54.5 million. Washington EMC will invest $52 million, and Conexon will contribute $2.5 million.

Kemp signed Senate Bill 2 in 2019 to allow electric membership corporations and their affiliates to provide broadband internet services. Other partnerships have been formed since the legislation passed, connecting thousands of other Georgians, officials said.

Tri-County EMC announced last month the formation of a new broadband provider, Tri-CoGo, in middle Georgia. Tri-CoGo, with the help of Conexon, will provide high-speed internet service to 22,000 homes and businesses in Baldwin, Bibb, Jasper, Jones, Morgan, Putnam, Twiggs and Wilkinson counties, officials said.

Kemp and officials announced a partnership in February between the Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, Southern Rivers Energy and Conexon to provide broadband internet access to 80,000 homes and businesses, serving 18 counties.

The projects will result in a total capital investments of $257 million, officials said.

Georgia's amended fiscal year 2021 budget included $20 million in rural broadband grants for 2021 and $10 million each year going forward.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore said Friday the commission has worked to address the rural broadband issue in Georgia for the past three years.

“Some of these 12,200 homes that are about to have access to high-speed internet opens up doors to telemedicine, to online education, and for all of us to run our businesses,” Pridemore said. “This is truly a great new day.”

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.