Press Releases

Early County Among OneGeorgia Grant Recipients

Atlanta Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that the Southwest Georgia Regional Information Technology Authority (SGRITA) has been awarded a $2.7 Million OneGeorgia Grant that will fund the construction and implementation of broadband Internet Service Infrastructure in the area.  The project, the first of its kind in the state, is the result of a five-county commitment to obtain the resources to bring the much needed service to the area through the help and support of the OneGeorgia Authority's Broadband Rural Initiative to Develop Georgia's Economy (BRIDGE) Fund.

According to the Governor, the award is the first grant from the BRIDGE program for implementation of wireless broadband in rural Georgia.  'This is an excellent example of visionary leadership, commitment and perseverance,' he said.  'I want to commend Lee Conner, Chairman, and the other members of the five-county Regional Information Technology Authority 'RITA' for collaborating and partnering across five counties.'

Along with Early County, Calhoun, Baker, Miller and Mitchell Counties make up the nearly 2,000 square mile area that will benefit from the grant.  Broadband internet service has traditionally been more accessible to urban areas, leaving smaller rural communities with little or no service because of the cost of technology.  The OneGeorgia Grant allows the five-county area to build a broadband infrastructure that will help create a self-sustaining economy.  The $2.7 million will be added to a previously obtained $1 million from the Flint River Soil and Water Program as well as some local investment, for a total of $3.77 million.

The process began in July 2006 when OneGeorgia awarded The Downtown Development Authority of the City of Arlington $88,600 in grant funds were to assist with a five-county regional technology assessment. Georgia Institute of Technology's TechSmart staff conducted a series of community-wide meetings to assist the local leadership and stakeholders in identifying the region's technology assets/needs as well as opportunities. This current technology benchmark served as the basis for the development of an integrated plan, the Digital Development Plan or 'roadmap' for future technology development and utilization within the region.  

In addition, grant funds were awarded to assist with site study, engineering and preliminary system design for development of a high-speed wireless broadband access system to support a number of agricultural applications, including remote pivot irrigation, as well as to community residents and businesses located within the five counties.

'Early County is excited and proud to be a part of this five-county high speed broadband initiative and extends our appreciation to everyone who worked so hard on this project,' said Lisa Collins, project manager of Early County 2055, the non-profit organization that is overseeing a 50-year economic revitalization project for Early County.  'The Early County 2055 vision is to provide the citizens in the area a strong, prosperous economic future. This technology is critical to enabling us to compete in a global marketplace.'

Leon Conner, the chair of the Arlington (GA) Downtown Development Authority who led the effort to bring broadband service to the area and serves as the chairman of SGRITA agrees.  'The integration of broadband internet access is as vital to our economy as rails and roads were in the past,' he said.  'Access to information builds knowledge and universal access to the internet empowers all of our citizens with the ability to succeed.  This grant enables us to provide opportunity and economic security to our communities.'

According to Conner, who serves on the steering committee of the Early County 2055 Economic Revitalization Initiative, the project was initiated because feedback from local businesses indicated the community wanted broadband service. OneGeorgia's BRIDGE grant program to help develop rural broadband service was used as a guide to justify the need for a network.  A study proved that it was technically and economically feasible and vital to the future of the region to create a broadband system. As a result, the five county SGRITA was formed, consisting of the county chairs and five designated representatives who, with the help of the Georgia Technology Authority and Civitium, applied for the Phase II implementation grant.  

Both Civitium, a management and technology consulting firm, and the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), worked with the SGRITA group to assess the strategy, provide a technical overview of plans and ensure that the broadband project will remain sustainable in the future.

According to Richard Calhoun, GTA director of Wireless Communities Georgia, the SGRITA effort is a model for other rural areas in the south from the standpoint of having a five county region successfully work together as a team to make it happen.  'We helped them look at the opportunities that would result in developing a broadband infrastructure that will bridge the digital divide that often exists between rural and more densely populated areas,' he said. 'We feel that this effort will surely succeed.'

'This is an extraordinary win for Early County and rest of the five county area,' said Barton Rice, the executive director of Early County 2055.  'For this region to grow and become economically viable, a broadband internet infrastructure is essential. We are extremely grateful to everyone who had the vision and determination to make this happen.'  

Connor says Early County is developing a 'smart community'.  'We have to begin with communications.  If you don't have that you can't learn, can't teach, can't really do business successfully,' he said.  'Broadband internet service is key to our success.  It is basic to building the community's business backbone.  We need to have worldwide connection to revitalize and sustain our economy.'