Tri-County EMC announced its rural broadband expansion initiative last week containing long-awaited news aided by the state’s top official.
The overall message in the March 5 announcement for the 22,000 homes and businesses served by Tri-County EMC is reliable high-speed internet will soon become a reality. Gov. Brian Kemp made the trip to Tri-County EMC’s headquarters in Gray to announce the welcome news.
The first speaker for the event was Chairman of Tri-County EMC Board of Directors Brenda Green.
‘We’ve heard the calls for help from the community, and it’s time for us to answer the call,” she said.
Kemp began his remarks by thanking those who worked to make the broadband plan possible. He said Senate Bill 2 that he signed in 2019 empowered EMCs to work with communities, and legislators like State Rep. Susan Holmes were responsible for that groundwork.
The governor said a month ago he was at another event celebrating Georgia EMCs bringing broadband to 80,000 homes in Middle Georgia.
“There is nothing like being on the ground to see these things happening. I appreciate the commitment by Tri-County EMC that will bring economic development, expanded healthcare and education,” he said. “This will keep our kids in the classroom.”
He commended EMCs for another program, the Rural Strike Team that has brought jobs to communities and the Rural Innovation Fund. Kemp said the amended state budget includes funds to continue to expand access to broadband.
The Governor said broadband access was a key priority in his campaign, and it was gratifying to see that promise fulfilled.
Kemp said Tri-County’s investment in the rural broadband expansion was $47 million.
“This is unbelievable news. I’ve been told it will be completed in less than two years,” he said.
The governor said he would continue to support rural broadband in the state budget.
“Thirteen EMCs are providing broadband with a $250 million investment. They have cut through the red tape and are getting the job done at the local level,” he said.
Tri-County CEO Ray Grinberg said work toward broadband has been going on for more than two years. He said the network is being constructed with the assistance of Conexon, a rural fiber-engineering consultant. The name of the cooperative’s broadband affiliate that will provide the service is Tri-CoGo.
Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols said rural areas were the last to get mail service, the last to get electricity and they are the last to get broadband. He said what recently happened in Texas was horrible. He said he was proud to live in a state that protects its ratepayers and provides top-drawer service by working with other service providers.
“Getting broadband to 22,000 accounts is the way to do it. I’m excited about what the EMCs are doing,” he said.
Holmes said she was grateful for the work that was being done.
“We have been frantic for years working on broadband services. I’m pleased that the EMCs are providing services,” she said.
Holmes said she enjoys keeping in touch with her constituents on Facebook, and anytime broadband is mentioned, she gets hundreds of comments.
“We have realized because of COVID how vital broadband is. Thank you to all of you who worked on this. It’s vital to the state,” she said.
Tri-County Senior Vice President Greg Mullis said in 1939 a group of individuals went door-to-door to talk to their neighbors in order to get the electricity that was available in town.
“Electricity revolutionized rural America both inside and outside of homes. This time the light is being delivered through a thin strand of fiber, and we believe this high-speed internet will be the catalyst for economic development,” he said. “We believe we are bringing a powerful tool to the community.”
Mullis thanked all the Tri-County employees, leaders and board members who worked to make the broadband possible.
“For those of you who haven’t been able to work from home, help is on the way; for those of you who have had to take your children and set in a parking lot for internet access, help is on the way; and even for those of you who just want to download a movie, help is on the way,” he said.
The vice-president said design and engineering work is already underway for the construction of the greenfield fiber network. He said Tri-Co Go will deliver 100 mbps and gigabit internet service and high-speed internet service delivery for members and it is expected to begin by late summer.
Mullis said anyone interested in the broadband service can pre-register at connect. tri-cogo.com. Those who register will be updated on the progress of when access will be available for them.
Tri-County is a memberowned electric cooperative chartered in 1939 that serves the counties of Jones, Baldwin, Bibb, Jasper, Morgan, Putnam, Twiggs and Wilkinson.