New broadband system brings speed to Columbia County communications

  • Follow Metro

In a secured case in an equally secured room off the beaten path near the Columbia County Library, there are a pair of innocuous-looking boxes. Small bundles of fiber-optic cable extend from each, the points where they enter and exit seemingly separated by only a few inches.

Lewis Foster, the manager of Broadband Utility, discusses the status of the project to install fiber optic lines throughout Columbia County.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Lewis Foster, the manager of Broadband Utility, discusses the status of the project to install fiber optic lines throughout Columbia County.

In truth, between each end lie more than 200 miles of Columbia County – and perhaps the future of communication in the area.

As of the first week in September, Columbia County’s new broadband system has been powered up and active. In the weeks since, Columbia County’s broadband manager, Lewis Foster, and his staff have been connecting county services to the system, changing the way, and the efficiency, with which they communicate.

The $18 million project, primarily funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, includes more than 200 miles of high-speed fiber-optic cable and five towers. The primary purposes were to improve the county’s communication capabilities, particularly in rural areas; attract retail, medical and industrial businesses with state-of-the-art connectivity; and provide limited free wireless in county facilities such as libraries and parks.

Foster said laying the communications groundwork for residents of western Columbia County was particularly important – there were areas where even Emergency Services radio reception could be sporadic.

“A lot of people don’t realize how rural that part of the county is,” he said. “And it’s hard to put infrastructure out there. Being able to do that is how we got this grant.”

The fiber-optic network consists of two loops – one that encompasses the more populated areas on the eastern side of the county, such as Martinez and Evans, and a larger one that extends west into rural areas. The hope is that the rings, in addition to improving the communication capabilities of county agencies, will provide “last mile” opportunities for commercial interests.

Those opportunities, Foster said, might eventually pay for the system’s upkeep and enrich the county’s general fund. Officials hope commercial interests will be able to lease bandwidth and tie into the county broadband, connecting private and commercial users to the network. The details of that plan and of leasing space on the five towers are still being worked out. Foster said agreements need to be reasonable, competitive and capable of offsetting the estimated $500,000 to $750,000 in maintenance and administration costs the system will incur annually.

“It’s a work in progress,” Foster said.

The system will provide free Wi-Fi in Columbia County parks and libraries, but Foster said there has been some misunderstanding as to what the network means to the public. It is not, he said, built to give everyone free Internet.

“That’s just not feasible,” he said.

Foster said that most of the major county agencies are expected to be connected to the system by the end of September. The school board, he said, would have to wait until either Christmas break or summer, when demand is low. He said meetings have been set next month with Grovetown to hammer out an agreement that would allow it to use the network.

“We’re not here to compete with commercial interests,” Foster said. “But this is about economic development. We see this as another reason people may be attracted to Columbia County. We are wholesalers. Who the customers are remains to be seen.”

Comments (5) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
southern2 09/21/12 - 07:15 pm
Absolute waste of 18 Million,

Absolute waste of 18 Million, Chinese borrowed, grandchildren strapped, Obama dollars. I fail to see the benefit of any level of government competing with commercial utilities for communication dollars especially since the utility companies are regulated by the government. No customers? Who cares.

wribbs 09/23/12 - 07:20 am
Southern2 NAILED IT.

Southern2 NAILED IT.

wribbs 09/24/12 - 07:13 am
These government projects

These government projects also kill innovation. Private companies had an incentive to develop technologies to reach customers in undeserved areas, who knows what someone may have invented. Now, the government has stepped in and solved the problem with borrowed Chinese money. Not a true solution.

The same holds true for the Rural Electric Authority that FDR helped create. If the federal government had said back then that government has no constitutional authority to be in the power business, we could all have fuel cells, solar cells, or who knows what powering rural homes. Now we have debt.

dstewartsr 09/24/12 - 07:06 pm

As a Columbia County taxpayer, I just wish I could give you more than one thumbs-up.

flith 09/26/12 - 11:36 am
This is a good thing

Southern2 and wribbs, there is no innovation to kill by this. The cable companies and telecoms are legal monopolies that are over charging for their services while receiving corporate welfare. Having just moved back to the US from several years overseas the prices for phone, cellphone, cable tv, and Internet are outrageous! Columbia County would only benefit off if a municipal fiber project was available to the public. I wish I had a choice other than comcast's slow Internet.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs
Top headlines
Augusta VA supervisor sentenced to prison
In what the judge called a "tragic case," a former Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center supervisor was sentenced Thursday to 27 months in federal prison for making false statements in medical files.