Efforts to expand broadband access to unserved areas of Georgia continue as Governor Brian P. Kemp made an announcement in Washington County Friday. Governor Kemp announced that Washington EMC will form a new partnership with Conexon Connect to provide high-speed fiber internet to more than 12,000 homes and businesses in 10 Middle Georgia counties: Baldwin, Emanuel, Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Johnson, Laurens, Warren, Washington and Wilkinson.
“The announcement we are making today will have a real impact on hard-working Georgians by providing new job opportunities, improved education tools, and access to telemedicine,” said Governor Kemp. “This is yet another great result of the General Assembly working with my office to pass and sign Senate Bill 2 into law in 2019, which authorized EMCs to provide broadband service. The legislation is doing exactly what it was intended to do: encourage EMCs and community leaders to work together on developing creative solutions to close the gap on the digital divide in our state.”
The partnership includes a capital investment of more than $54.5 million with Washington EMC (WEMC) investing $52 million and Conexon Connect contributing another $2.5 million.
Under terms of the agreement, WEMC will partner with Conexon Connect, the internet services provider (ISP) arm of full-service rural fiber-optic broadband provider Conexon, to design and build a 3,000-mile fiber network that will serve two strategic purposes: provide improved electric service and increased reliability through smart grid capabilities, and provide high-speed internet access to all 12,200 WEMC members within the next three years, beginning as early as first quarter 2022. Conexon works exclusively with electric cooperatives and is considered one of the pioneers in the electric cooperative broadband movement.
WEMC will own the fiber and lease excess capacity to Conexon Connect, which has agreed to serve every EMC member with fiber-to-the-home internet speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second. The internet service will be powered by Washington EMC fiber, but Conexon Connect will provide the retail service to homes and businesses, managing account set-up, customer service, operations, marketing and billing.
“I hear from Georgians every day about the challenges caused by lack of broadband in rural areas,” said Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore. “Connectivity is essential for Georgia ratepayers to participate in today’s economy.”
“For too long, Washington EMC members, like many others living in the beautiful rural areas of our state, have gone without necessary services like quality, high-speed internet,” said WEMC President/CEO Wendy Sellers. “It’s impossible to comprehend the impacts and frustrations that come with no access to broadband. I am so excited for Washington EMC to be a part of the solution that brings this long-awaited service to our members and communities.”
“Georgia is fast becoming a bright spot for its commitment and efforts to bring fiber broadband to rural communities,” Conexon Partner Randy Klindt said. “We are privileged to work with cooperatives like Washington EMC as they improve the lives and communities they serve with reliable, affordable, best-in-class fiber internet. We applaud Wendy and her team as well as Georgia EMC for their advocacy and efforts.”
In recent years, Georgia’s EMCs have been aggressively pursuing solutions to help expand broadband. Some, like Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC, have created affiliates and are already providing high-speed service to members and many are exploring or have formed partnerships with broadband providers. In addition to today’s news, other EMC partnerships and projects were announced recently by Amicalola EMC, Carroll EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Colquitt EMC, Diverse Power, Southern Rivers Energy and Tri-County EMC, resulting in expanded access for tens of thousands of Georgia households.