Broadband project under way

Fiber optic lines will ring county
Columbia County is using a $13.5 million stimulus grant and sales tax money to install 200 miles of fiber optic cable.

By this time next year, Columbia County could be ringed by more than 200 miles of fiber optic lines capable of providing Internet service to any resident wishing to purchase it.

For now, though, county officials say they have received little interest from Internet service providers on leasing the use of the broadband network.

"We're really not pushing it," said Columbia County Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson. "We want to get our (first installation phase) in the ground. Once that construction is done, we're going on a full-blown marketing campaign to sell the benefits of the network."

Work started last month on the first phase. About 25 miles of the fiber optic lines will be installed by May. Four subsequent phases will complete the installation by January 2012.

Construction should start this month on a building near the Columbia County Library to house the servers needed to operate the network.

Recently, the county purchased 2.5 acres on Ridge Road in Appling for about $50,000 to build one of seven wireless communication towers as part of the $18 million broadband project.

"That's really going to help, because on that western end of the county coverage is kind of spotty," Johnson said of the tower. It will be used to transmit radio and cellular signals.

"We'll be able to increase our Sheriff's Office radio capabilities and then also might get some interest from cell (phone) companies."

Using the towers, the broadband project will include dozens of free Wi-Fi hotspots such as parks, libraries and community centers.

The project is made possible by a $13.5 million federal stimulus grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. The remainder of the cost for the network will come from the 1-percent sales tax.

Currently, Internet access using cable lines is available only in areas with dense populations -- Evans, Martinez and Grovetown.

The broadband network offers those same services to rural residents in Appling and Harlem. Also benefitting are schools, which will be given direct access to the fiber optic lines.