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State Sen. Burt Jones

This week, I had the honor of joining Gov. Brian Kemp for the partnership announcement between Southern Rivers Energy from Barnesville, Ga. and Georgia EMC, located in Jackson, Ga., in Senate District 25. By joining together, these two companies will provide high-speed internet in 18 Middle Georgia counties to 80,000 homes and businesses.

According to the statement released by the governor, “The partnership includes a capital investment of more than $210 million overall. Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) will invest $135 million, Southern Rivers Energy (SRE) will invest $53 million, and Conexon will contribute $21.5 million. Monroe County has also committed $1.3 million in local funds to incentivize the EMCs to start their projects in Monroe County.”

I want to commend everyone who worked on securing this critical partnership for our district and Middle Georgia. Your efforts to bring connectivity to our citizens will have a positive impact on our families, students, and businesses throughout the region. Expanding access to broadband, and more importantly a reliable connection, remains a top priority for the administration, my colleagues and myself. As the pandemic continues to impact our state, our citizens will rely on the internet for schoolwork, future job applications, work and much more. We must do all we can to ensure no one gets left behind. By working together, through private and public partnerships, we can expand on our past successes of reducing unnecessary burdens on all stakeholders and work on innovative solutions to bring the latest technology and critical access to all corners of the state.

Along with this partnership, I would like to highlight some other work being done under the Gold Dome to expand broadband access:

•$20 million included in the final version of House Bill 80 – the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 Budget – to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program to enable rural communities to leverage existing federal, local, and private resources to quickly target high-need broadband expansion within their areas. HB 80 received final passage on Thursday and is pending Governor Kemp’s signature.

•$150,000 included in HB 80 to provide funding to accomplish the above in a timely and efficient manner.

•Senate Bill 65 – Divides the Universal Access Fund into two portions, the Local Exchange Portion and the High-speed Broadband Deployment Portion. The Public Service Commission would determine distribution awards from the High-speed Broadband Deployment which will be used only for capital expenses and other expenses directly related to the purchase or lease of property, services or facilities for the deployment of communication access. Additionally, the Commission would determine any distributions from the Local Exchange Portion and would require any local exchange company seeking reimbursement from the fund to file all necessary information to determine the actual and reasonable costs of providing basic local exchange services. This fund has a distribution limit of $35 million in the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2021, and no distributions would be made after June 30, 2030.

As this legislation and any other addressing broadband access make it through the legislative process, I will keep you updated. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. My staff and I are always here to help.

State Sen. Burt Jones represents the 25th Senate District which includes Baldwin, Butts, Greene, Jasper, Morgan and Putnam counties and portions of Bibb, Jones and Walton counties. He may be reached at 404-656-0082 or via email at burt.jones@senate.ga.gov.

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