2 more Georgia electric cooperatives to offer internet

Two Georgia electric cooperatives say they and partners will invest more than $200 million to extend broadband internet to more than 80,000 customers in 18 counties between Atlanta and Macon.

Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp. and Southern Rivers Energy made the announcement Monday with Gov. Brian Kemp and others at the state Capitol.

The two cooperatives will run fiber to all their customers and Conexon of Kansas City, Missouri will operate the service. Central Georgia EMC is investing $135 million and Southern Rivers is investing $53 million, with each owning the infrastructure and also using it control their electric grids. They will lease capacity to Conexon, which is investing $12.5 million and will offer accounts to customers.

"We struggled for years with poor connectivity, but looked at it as just another one of those things that many rural Americans lacked, like traffic lights, chain restaurants, or department stores," said Southern Rivers President and CEO Michael McMillan. "But when schools closed, our children’s only access to education was via the internet. It became crystal clear that quality internet at an affordable price is not a luxury. It is essential."

Monroe County and its school district will contribute $1.3 million in local funds. The two cooperatives will start construction this year, beginning in that county. The first phase will be done in 12 to 16 months, officials said Monday, while full build-out is expected to take four or five years. The first customers could be turned on this summer.

"We build to every member," said Conexon partner Jonathan Chambers. "We don’t leave anyone behind."

The two cooperatives also won millions from a share of a federal grant to underwrite rural internet expansion.

Georgia lawmakers gave the go-ahead for rural electric cooperatives to invest in internet service in 2019, and Kemp said 12 of the state’s 41 cooperatives have now jumped in. The Republican governor hailed the announcement as an example of people "working together on innovative solutions that close the gap between those with internet service and those without."

The Republican governor has proposed that lawmakers spend $20 million in the budget year ending June 30 and then another $10 million each year going forward to subsidize rural internet connections. Officials said that if lawmakers agree to the spending, cities and counties could apply for grants that could help the Central Georgia and Southern Rivers build-out.

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