Bremen internet provider could start first phase of broadband expansion in Carroll and Heard in early 2021

Speakers at the annual Harvest Dinner discussed rural broadband issues, but the event also honored local businesses, including Richard and Kim Littleton, who were presented the Agribusiness Award by Paula Burke.

A Bremen internet service provider will begin the first phase of bringing broadband to residents in Carroll and Heard counties as early as January, in partnership with Carroll EMC.

Kyle Williamson, the CEO of SyncGlobal Telecom in Bremen, made the announcement on Tuesday, during the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Harvest Dinner. And a west Georgia lawmaker told attendees that he would like to provide more funding to electric cooperatives and providers as an incentive to provide more rural residents with broadband.

While many city residents have access to high-speed and reliable broadband, those living in rural west Georgia find that connecting to high-speed internet is not as easy for them. But SyncGlobal and Carroll Electric Membership Cooperative have teamed up under a federal program to invest $12.5 million to construct a fiber network in the extreme southern part of Carroll County and northwestern Heard County.

Williamson, who was one of four guest speakers at the Harvest Dinner, told attendees that the first phase of that plan could begin in early 2021.

Tim Martin, Carroll EMC’s president and CEO, also attended the event to discuss broadband access with Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, and Carroll County Young Farmers Director Ryan Ayers.

Martin talked about how he and Williamson worked together to start providing access to rural residents, beginning with a 2016 feasibility study done by Carroll EMC that showed that three out of every five EMC members did not have broadband access.

In June, the utility and SyncGlobal announced they would begin to roll out the network under a USDA program called Broadband ReConnect. The federal program is providing matching funds to the joint project, bringing the initial capital investment to almost $20 million for the first stage of deploying broadband.

The electric utility and internet service provider plan to expand broadband to about 7,300 residents and 200 businesses in parts of extreme southern Carroll and northwestern Heard counties.

“We want everyone to have broadband, but we decided to focus on the areas with the greatest need,” Williamson said. “The hardest to serve from a cost perspective, the hardest to serve from a buildout perspective, the hardest to make a reality.”

Ayers said farmers, for example, need broadband access for directly marketing their farms using social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, email, and a website.

“The internet is a wonderful resource,” he said. “We have some of the best farmers in the world. The internet allows innovation to come forward, and in my opinion, it is critical to our system to be able to step into that area. There’s so much technology that drives business to your phone.”

But Williamson said it is “very costly” to extend broadband to some homeowners, noting the cost per mile can be thousands of dollars — and that’s without adding in regulatory fees, the cost of labor, and the equipment used to expand broadband access.

Brass said part of the issue is that some residents who live off a state highway might live a quarter-mile off the road, and he said it would cost a lot of money for an internet service provider to connect these homes in a fiber network.

“I’ve heard [it] estimated anywhere from several thousand dollars to the highest one I heard a few weeks ago was about $33,000 that the homeowner was going to have to pay,” he said.

Brass represents state Senate District 28, which includes southeastern Carroll, Heard, and rural portions of Coweta, Troup and Fulton counties. Broadband became an important issue for him, but he said there were challenges to getting EMCs involved with providing access to his rural constituents.

“I saw these providers really try to block out the EMCs from getting into the market because they were going to steal their customers,” Brass said.

He added that he would like to put funding behind the efforts to expand broadband access to even more residents. He said this would incentivize electric memberships and service providers to go into areas they cannot now afford to reach.

He added that while the state legislature has made broadband one of their priorities, he would like to see some funding put behind the efforts to expand access.

State lawmakers are looking at ways to offset the costs for EMCs and internet providers to expand access, he said, including giving local governments the ability to put funding toward expanding broadband through SPLOST revenue.

“We’ve got to some to put some funding behind it to encourage the EMCs to go where they can’t afford to go and to encourage other providers to go where their return on investment is going to take a long time, we got to help incentivize that,” he said.