Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Dahlonega Nugget - BREAKING NEWS: Biden unveils local broadband blueprint

The Dahlonega Nugget via 12/17/09 Dawsonville (GA) - by Wayne Knuckles, Editor and Publisher, The Dahlonega Nugget - Vice President Joe Biden put north Georgia in the national spotlight Thursday with an appearance at a Dawsonville manufacturing facility to announce the first funding awards from the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program approved by Congress in February.

Biden said Lumpkin County, Dawson County and other members of a consortium known at the North Georgia Network Cooperative will greatly benefit from the $33 million in stimulus funds that have been awarded for a project to create a state-of-the-art fiber optics network that will serve as the high-capacity Internet backbone for a 12-county north Georgia region.

"New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country. Businesses will be able to improve their customer service and better compete around the world," said Biden.

"This is what the Recovery Act is all about - sparking new growth, tapping into the ingenuity of the American people and giving folks the tools they need to help build a new economy in the 21st-century."

Gov. Sonny Perdue accompanied the vice president to Dawsonville. The project has also been awarded a grant of $2.5 million from the OneGeorgia Authority.

“Broadband is the new dial tone of the 21st century,” Gov. Perdue said. “Internet access is as important to our communications infrastructure today as reliable telephone service was a century ago. Creating an advanced network will promote economic development, expand educational opportunities and improve the availability and efficiency of government services.”

The estimated $42 million project will created a 260-mile regional fiber optic ring that local officials say is vital to attracting new jobs and industry to the region.

The project has the potential to create 837 direct jobs during the construction phase, but local officials say that may be the tip of the iceberg compared to the thousands of potential jobs that the availability of high-capacity Internet in the region could stimulate. It will take an estimated three years from the start of construction to complete.

The project grew out of a realization by Bruce Abraham, executive director of the Development Authority of Lumpkin County, in late 2007 that a lack of high-capacity Internet was crippling the region's ability to economic development. The Development Authority authorized Abraham to pursue the project, which grew into a partnership with Dawson, Union and White counties to seek a $240,000 OneGeorgia grant to determine the initial feasibility of the the proposed project.

North Georgia College & State University and Forsyth County, while not eligible for OneGeorgia funds, agreed to invest $4,800 each to partner in the venture. Habersham Electric Membership Cooperative and Blue Ridge Mountain EMC also signed on to become members of what came to be called the North Georgia Network Cooperative.

The local grant was part of a total of $182 million in funding for 18 broadband projects in 17 states announced by Biden's office Thursday. The vice president's appearance in Dawsonville for Thursday's announcements is an indication the Obama administration is not playing politics with the economic stimulus funds approved by Congress, according to a spokesman.

"North Georgia is not a particularly blue hue. It's a beautiful place," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was quoted as telling reporters at a Wednesday briefing by the Web site Counties impacted by the local broadband initiative include Union, Towns, Rabun, Habersham, White, Lumpkin, Dawson and Forsyth.

See the next edition of The Dahlonega Nugget for complete coverage of this breaking news story.

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Photo Credit: Staff Photo by Matt Aiken, The Dahlonega Nugget
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