Broadband Project Still Moving Forward

A broadband project involving Stephens County continues to move forward.

On Tuesday, Stephens County Commissioners unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement regarding the broadband project. That project is building what eventually would be a 150-mile fiber loop through Stephens, Franklin, Hart, Banks, Habersham, and Rabun counties.

Stephens County Development Authority Executive Director Tim Martin said that the agreement must be in place between the Joint Development Authority of Franklin, Hart, and Stephens counties, along with Stephens County, Franklin County, Hart County, and Habersham County.

Meanwhile, Martin said that the North Georgia Network is making preparations to begin building out the broadband loop.

“North Georgia Network is in the process of acquiring the electronics (and) placing orders for fibers,” said Martin. “We are also, simultaneous to that, still dotting a few ‘i’s’ and crossing a few ‘t’s’ with the OneGeorgia Authority. But we are moving forward. That is the take-away. We are very, very excited about this project. Things still take time, but we are expecting to see fiber being hung on poles and electronics buried in the ground at the end of this year and the first of next year.”

The North Georgia Network, which has an office in Clarkesville was selected in July to build this broadband project. The NGN already operates a high-speed broadband loop through a number of north Georgia counties.

Martin went on to say that the first phase of work will take place in Stephens County.

“The first phase of the build-out will be from Hollywood in Habersham County to Toccoa,” said Martin. “Then, we are going to be leasing some fiber from Hart EMC from Toccoa to Lavonia to Hartwell. That fiber is already installed.”

The Joint Development Authority of Stephens, Franklin, and Hart counties has received a $1 million equity grant from OneGeorgia to go towards building the loop.

About $800,000 of the money is a straight grant, while $150,000 comes in the form of a loan to the JDA and $50,000 of the money would be a local match.

According to Martin, the North Georgia Network will pay off the $150,000 loan, while the JDA will cover about $7,700 of the local match, leaving the four counties to split the remaining part four ways, meaning each county would be responsible for about $10,600. Martin says the Stephens County Development Authority will cover Stephens County’s portion.

Stephens County Commission Chairman Dean Scarborough said this is an important project for the region.

“This is an information highway like what we are trying to do with (Highway) 17, getting a connected four-lane to Interstate 85,” said Scarborough. “As time goes on, the importance to industrial prospects to have this ability to have high-speed Internet will be just as important as a transportation network because it is an information transportation network.”

Martin said construction of the first phase of the project is expected to take about six months.