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Broadband allows for faster transmission of computer data through highspeed technologies such as cable, wireless and satellite. It lets individual uses have faster internet reception for work, education, health care and other services.
Both broadband companies appeared before the Council September 19 to ask for a letter of endorsement in their efforts to seek a portion of a $240 million grant to continue expansion of high-speed internet across Georgia. The letter will be part of the application packet being submitted by the companies to the state for funding. Only one applicant will be awarded the grant. The grant was announced by Governor Brian Kemp on August 12. Applications for this funding are due by October 7, thus putting pressure on the Alamo City Council to act quickly on an endorsement.
These funds are being made available through the Capital Projects Fund Grant Program (CPF). CPF funding is being administered and deployed by the Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) through a competitive grant program that started August 15. The CPF program will provide the needed support to build comprehensive broadband networks in many communities struggling with the lack of broadband access. Approved projects will use leading technologies to offer reliable, high-speed internet access that will be able to support a household with multiple users, along with businesses and their 21st-Century operations. The grant targets “last mile customers” who are on the fringes of areas that can be served by broadband. The grant aims to fill this void by connecting to these customers, which will also create opportunities or “build business cases” for all of those businesses and households in between these outlying customers.
The CPF program comes on the heels of a $400 million grant to expand broadband expansion announced by Governor Kemp in February of this year. The awarded projects aim to serve approximately 180,000 locations, representing both homes and businesses, with faster and more reliable broadband.
At the City Council sessions, Culture Wireless, based in Atlanta, was represented by Jerome Howard, chief operating officer. The other applicant, James T. ( Jim) O’Brien, owner, represented GTC/SGB.
The City Council scheduled a called meeting on September 26 to consider the requested letter of endorsement but some members of the Council objected to the fact that the entire Council was not in attendance, nor was a representative from Culture Wireless, and moved to postpone the decision to another date. Voting in favor of Culture Wireless on October 3 were Council members Pat Woodard, Dondrea Geter, Thomas Lott, and Harry Lewis, who left midway through the meeting but submitted his vote on a slip of paper delivered to City Attorney Russell Clark. Councilmen Bobby Cox and Steve Jones voted in favor of GTC/SGB.
Prior to the vote, both Howard and O’Brien addressed the Council.
Howard, who grew up in Wheeler County and whose parents still reside there, urged the Council to consider trying something new by endorsing his company. He referenced the fact that many Wheeler Countians, including students, are without adequate connectivity. One of the most critical areas of need for broadband services is students, teachers and staff whose homes are located throughout the rural county. Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Couey said while the school itself has state-of-the-art internet connectivity, many of the system’s students, teachers and staff are still dependent on “hot spot” connectivity rather than consistent, high-quality broadband.
Howard also emphasized that Culture can provide 100 megabytes of service, which the federal government has designated as the minimum service needed to sufficiently handle basic uses, for as little as $5 monthly to customers who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Applicants must be 200% below federal poverty guidelines to qualify for this program. He said his company can facilitate the ACP process and will provide internet education for customers. The company uses wireless and fiber optics to create a broadband network.
O’Brien previously informed the Council that GTC/SGB, the local company, is already in the process of laying fiber optic lines in several parts of Wheeler County. He said his company will be able to provide a gigabyte of service to customers for about $99 per month, but also offers affordable service options through government programs for eligible customers, just as Culture does.
O’Brien is the third generation of his family to operate GTC, the smallest privately-owned telephone company in the state. He has already received letters of endorsement from the Wheeler County Commission, the City of McRae, from Senator Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, and Representative Leesa Hagan, R-Lyons, whose areas of representation include Wheeler County. Also writing letters of endorsement were Wheeler County Sheriff Randy Rigdon, Wheeler County Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Couey and the Wheeler County Chamber of Commerce.
The Alamo City Council, which meets at the end of the month, was O’Brien’s last stop for seeking a letter of endorsement but was the first local governmental entity from whom Culture Wireless sought an endorsement.