ATLANTA – Satilla Rural Electric Membership Corp. will partner with Kansas City-based Conexon Connect to offer high-speed broadband service to nine counties in southeastern Georgia.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

The $150 million project will serve more than 57,000 rural homes and businesses in Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Coffee, Jeff Davis, Pierce, Ware and Wayne counties.

The project is expected to be completed within four to five years, with service available to some customers during the first quarter of next year.

“The promise of high-speed internet is a game changer for the homes and businesses in our service area,” said Romeo Reyes, president and CEO of Satilla REMC. “Our members have waited patiently for access to broadband, now considered an essential service in today’s digital world.

“It’s vital that rural Georgia remain competitive and offer the same online choices to its residents – whether it’s working and learning from home, running a home-based business, visiting a doctor online, or shopping for goods and services.”

The lack of high-speed internet connectivity in rural Georgia, long a concern among the region’s political and business leaders, has had an even greater impact during the coronavirus pandemic. With schools closing their doors to avoid spreading the virus, students in homes without internet have been forced to go to great lengths to keep up with their lessons.

While a couple of Georgia EMCs have been providing broadband service for years, the business began to take off in earnest after the General Assembly passed legislation two years ago authorizing EMCs to attach broadband technology to utility poles.

Lawmakers followed that up last year with a bill giving the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) the task of deciding how much EMCs could charge telecom providers for pole attachments. The commission approved an offer by the EMCs to provide steep discounts to providers willing to offer broadband to unserved rural communities.

“EMCs have taken a leadership role and offered tangible solutions to provide high-speed internet to unserved areas,” said Commissioner Jason Shaw, who represents South Georgia on the PSC. “This partnership is the latest example of how EMCs are stepping up to serve rural Georgia and further improve the quality of life for their members.”

Conexon Connect has been an active player in extending broadband service to rural communities across Georgia. The company announced two projects last month that will expand broadband connectivity to EMC customers in Middle Georgia and 10 counties in eastern Georgia stretching from Laurens County to Washington County.

The company unveiled an even larger project last February to serve 80,000 utility customers in 18 rural counties.

Satilla REMC’s fiber-optic network will offer customers access to symmetrical Gigabit internet service – among the fastest and most robust in the nation. It also will provide reliable, clear phone service and improved power outage response times, better load balancing, and more efficient electricity delivery.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.