Kicking off the new year, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced $234 million of the state’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF) will be used to deploy new high-speed Internet infrastructure in the Peach State, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act.
The lion’s share of those federal funds, being administered by the state’s broadband office, will be gobbled up by the four national telecom giants operating in the state. The rest of the grant money will be shared by a half dozen electric cooperatives for smaller projects.
In total, the grants were awarded to 12 different applicants to fund 29 different projects across 28 counties.
“When combined with significant capital matches from the awardees, almost $455 million will be invested to serve over 76,000 locations in communities with some of the greatest need for high-speed Internet access,” the Governor’s office said in the Jan. 4 press announcement.
The Big Telecom winners were Comcast, netting almost $67 million for eight projects that looks to extend broadband access to nearly 28,000 locations; $39.3 million for five Spectrum projects that plan to pass nearly 19,000 locations; Windstream raking in $34.8 million for four projects to make high-speed Internet service available to 4,500 locations, and MediaCom hauling in $27.9 million for three projects to reach 8,200 addresses.
The electric cooperative grant awards were:
- Grady Electric Membership Corporation ($9.3 million; 3,620 locations).
- Mitchell Electric Membership Corporation ($9 million; 3,093 locations).
- Satilla Rural Electric Membership Corporation ($5.6 million; 2,533 locations).
- Oconee Electric Membership Corporation ($2.6 million; 1,134 locations).
- Middle Georgia Electric Membership Corporation ($2.5 million; 674 locations)
- Irwin Electric Membership Corporation ($433,109; 100 locations).
You can find the complete list of awardees here.
When the grants were awarded, Gov. Kemp echoed what governors across the nation have been emphasizing in highlighting the centrality of high-speed Internet connectivity in enabling residents and businesses to fully participate in modern economic and social life:
High-speed Internet access is critical for both academic and economic opportunities, as well as overall quality of life. These projects announced today will go a long way to helping Georgians in some of the most unserved and underserved parts of the state become better connected.
More Connectivity (With a Caveat)
Especially in the wake of the pandemic, Kemp’s observation has become a truism. And, while broadband access – for all practical purposes – is an essential utility for all citizens, Big Telecom (especially ISPs that enjoy a regional monopoly) have a well-documented track record of taking government subsidies while leaving less profitable parts of a community unserved or being saddled with high-cost service.
Membership-owned electric cooperatives, on the other hand, have different incentives and consider broadband a utility that should not only be accessible to all of its members, but affordable as well.
Not that should take away from the fact that these investments, including the state’s yet-to-be-allocated funds from the infrastructure bill, represent a watershed moment for gig-starved Georgians.
In fact, this infusion of CPF funds adds to the $408 million in preliminary grant funds the state announced in February of last year. Or, as noted in the press release:
Together, the programs equal nearly $650 million in grant funds that will work hand-in-hand with hundreds of millions of additional matching funds. These investments and the projects associated with these two grant programs aim to serve roughly 200,000 of the remaining 455,000 unserved locations in the state.
Georgia broadband officials plan to offer another round of grant funding in the spring, funded with CPF money, for the five other counties in Georgia that were not awarded funds in this round. Those counties are Calhoun, Echols, Johnson, Miller, and Webster Counties.