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By Tia Lynn Ivey

News editor

A new $47 million investment is underway to expand broadband access in eight Georgia counties, including Morgan County.

On March 5, Gov. Brian Kemp announced a new broadband provider, which is aiming to expand broadband in rural Middle Georgia, will lead to 22,000 more homes and businesses across eight counties gaining broadband access. Kemp and Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols made an announcement at Tri-County EMC’s headquarters last Friday that the formation of a new broadband provider in Middle Georgia, Tri-CoGo, will provide high-speed internet service to thousands of rural Georgians in Morgan, Jones, Baldwin, Putnam, Jasper, Twiggs, Wilkinson, and Bibb counties.

“Today’s broadband announcement by Tri-County EMC is another exciting step toward securing greater opportunities for hardworking Georgians through expanded internet access,” said Kemp. “Broadband access is critical to economic growth, better educational outcomes, and access to quality healthcare. Our EMCs are critical partners in that fight, and thanks to the passage and signing of Senate Bill 2 in 2019, they are empowered to work with the communities they serve on projects like this that lessen the digital divide in rural Georgia. I’m honored to be part of this announcement and will continue working with leaders across our state to increase broadband access and ensure a brighter future for all Georgians – no matter their zip code.”

Providing broadband to rural areas of Georgia is a problem that has vexed lawmakers and businesses for years. But the passing of a broadband bill in February 2019 by the Georgia General Assembly is paving the way for expanded broadband access. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has forced thousands of students to learn virtually from home, has only exacerbated the urgent need for broadband connectivity in rural parts of the state.

According to Kemp’s office, the project will include a capital investment of more than $47 million by Tri-County EMC (TCEMC) to build a fiber network that will provide enhanced reliability and operational services for TCEMC electric customers while providing excess fiber capacity that will be leased to the cooperative’s broadband affiliate, Tri-CoGo, which will provide the broadband service, pending regulatory approval. Tri-County EMC is constructing the network with the assistance of Conexon, a rural fiber engineering consultant. Construction of the fiber network will be complete in two years, and all TCEMC members will have access to broadband services with Tri-CoGo in the months soon thereafter.

“Ensuring the citizens of our state have access to broadband service is a key part of my goal to make our state the ‘Technology Capitol of the East Coast,’” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. “Expanding broadband access has been a key priority for the Senate and I am excited to see our EMCs take another step in helping close the digital divide.”

“The availability of high-speed broadband in rural Georgia is truly a game changer – affording access to telemedicine, online learning and e-commerce,” said House Speaker David Ralston. “I am proud that our House of Representatives, guided by our House Rural Development Council, has prioritized the expansion of broadband internet resulting in announcements like Tri-County EMC’s. We will continue to work with public and private sector partners to expand economic opportunity to every corner of our state.”

“Today is truly an exciting day for our cooperative,” said Tri-County EMC CEO Ray Grinberg. “For our members and our community, today marks the beginning of a digital revolution. Regardless of location across our service territory, every member of Tri-County EMC will soon be able to receive high-speed internet.”

Tri-County EMC members interested in internet or phone service are encouraged to visit the newly-created subsidiary’s website at connect.tri-cogo.com. Members can search by address to get detailed information about buildout schedules, simple and competitive pricing plans and to preregister for service.

This project, along with other EMC-broadband deals underway in Georgia, has been made possible due to legislation passed two years ago by the Georgia General Assembly empowering electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) to dive into the broadband business.

Just last month, Kemp announced another partnership poised to benefit Morgan County in enhancing broadband access, along with 17 other rural communities in Georgia.

Two Georgia utility companies joined forces with a fiber optic company out of Kansas City to close the steep broadband gap between urban and rural Georgia communities. According to the Capitol Beat News Service, “Central Georgia EMC, Southern Rivers Energy and Conexon will invest more than $210 million to design and build a 6,890-mile fiber network that will provide both improved electric service and high-speed internet access to all 80,000 of the two utilities’ customers. Service is expected to begin as early as June 2021 and continue rolling out during the next four years.”

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