Originally created 11/24/03

G-8 Summit bringing tech upgrade to coastal lowlands



ATLANTA -- Hunting for deer or alligator along Georgia's coastal lowlands can be downright simple compared to finding a reliable cell phone signal in the area.

"One of the biggest complaints I get when people come down here is the cell phone service is spotty, particularly on the island and the 1/8 Interstate 95 3/8 corridor," said State Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

While Keen says the region's cellular and electrical infrastructures are far from crumbling, one doesn't always hear the words "state-of-the-art" thrown around, either.

But all that is about to change.

From Savannah to Brunswick, coastal Georgia soon will receive a technological facelift in anticipation of the G-8 Summit.

Leaders from the Group of Eight will meet June 8-10 on Sea Island.

As many as 10,000 political workers and journalists could flood into the region as the United States hosts the summit's 30th yearly gathering. Although the event will last just days, state leaders say residents will gain permanent benefits from the summit, such as better wireless communication services and more reliable electricity.

Improvements already are under way - and won't cost taxpayers a cent. Companies are footing the bill for the upgrades.

Verizon Wireless has set up mobile communication towers around Sea Island, expanding cellular coverage to eastern portions of Glynn County.

"I can actually use my cell phone on Sea Island now," said Erin O'Brien, Gov. Sonny Perdue's chief planner for the G-8 Summit. "It's a beautiful thing."

Once completed, improved cellular coverage will span from Savannah, where most journalists and summit workers will stay, to the Brunswick area.

Bob Goodwin, head of the G-8 Host Committee, said communication companies already have spent nearly $6 million to overhaul the region.

"All of this will be left behind when the summit concludes as a legacy," Goodwin said.

Georgia Power plans to shell out nearly $3 million to beef up the electrical system on Sea Island. Much of the cost is due to a decision to run a new underground electrical line to the island, Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright said.

"That is in progress now," she said. "We won't be entirely through with everything until late May."

Since the June announcement that President Bush selected Sea Island for the summit, Perdue and local politicians have made a priority of using the event to secure funding for long-needed improvements to such things as utility and road systems.

Perdue says hosting the G-8 will make Georgia an attractive venue for other large-scale conventions and international gatherings.

"Georgia is being given an opportunity to bring the world to our house and demonstrate our capabilities as a whole," he said in a speech to an Atlanta business group last week. "It's a great opportunity to demonstrate we are a world-class state capable of hosting world-class events."

Woody Woodside, president of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the technological improvements to enhance coastal Georgia's status as a vacation spot for those who don't like to stray too far from their e-mail accounts or wireless laptops.

"It certainly is going to be very advantageous for anyone in the hospitality business," he said.