March 17, 2013

Broadband extended across North Georgia

Submitted by North Georgia Network

— Mission accomplished.

In 2009, the North Georgia Network became the first organization to receive a federal grant to build out a broadband network to an underserved region of the United States, and in 2012 the dream has become a reality with the official completion of the $42 million project. North Georgia Network is the first federal project to reach completion under the Federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

“Through cooperative effort, the network has changed the shape of education, business and the economy across the rural counties of North Georgia,” said Paul Belk, North Georgia Network President and CEO, and a former Dalton resident. “The fiber optic network opens North Georgia to global business by helping local businesses grow and create more jobs. The goal was to create a network to support a new technology-based economy for generations to come, and we’ve accomplished that.”

In addition, the network represents has been certified as having carrier grade standards after testing by TPRC Broadband. TPRC Broadband’s test of the NGN core yielded 99.996 percent throughput, which tests how accurately the network carries heavy data. The test also yielded a latency of 2.15 milliseconds, which is the amount of time it takes for 10 gigabytes of data to pass through the 260-mile core.

“The goal of everyone involved in the North Georgia Network was to build a world class network to change the shape of education and business in north Georgia,” Belk said. “The third-party certification by TPRC shows we’ve put that network in place. Through high-speed fiber optics we can open up North Georgia to global business, helping local businesses grow and create more jobs.”

Communities make commitment

In 2007, economic development and educational leaders in North Georgia identified the need for more reliable and more affordable high-speed Internet access if the region wanted to compete for new businesses. Time after time, businesses chose not to relocate to North Georgia because the Internet connection and communications systems did not meet their needs.

The North Georgia Network was formed through a joint effort of economic development professionals in Dawson, Forsyth, Lumpkin, Union and White counties, and from the University of North Georgia, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC.

Community investment was the key. It began in 2008 with a $240,000 grant from OneGeorgia for a broadband feasibility study. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC became major backers, committing $4.9 million to the project. The University of North Georgia came on board, providing $800,000. Lumpkin, Dawson, Forsyth, Union, White counties contributed $215,000 and OneGeorgia followed up with $2.5 million.

With local communities invested, the North Georgia Network turned to federal funding. In 2009, the North Georgia Network was awarded the first grant from BTOP, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The $42 million grant was awarded to build a 1,100-mile fiber optic network.

“It took all the communities coming together to make the North Georgia Network a reality,” said Bruce Abraham, board director of the network’s new economic development company, Connect North Georgia. “We saw a need, and we made a big commitment to move the region forward and open up new opportunities.”

Business and education opportunities

The speed and reliability of the network opens up the region to a number of business prospects. Businesses needing high-speed connections such as data and call centers can relocate to North Georgia now, and there are more opportunities for telecommuting and advancement in telemedicine. Area businesses connected to the network saw immediate results, allowing them to be more competitive in the global market.

“We suffered from slow DSL, frequent drops and long Internet outages,” Impulse Manufacturing President Ron Basden said. “We couldn’t compete on the world business stage because we couldn’t communicate in the protocols required by Fortune 500 companies. Now, we’re expanding and taking on new customers and employees.”

NGN has provided educational opportunities, too. Schools are just scratching the surface with the capabilities they have now.

“The other day we had a student that was hospital homebound,” said William Sperin, White County Schools technology director. “We used iPads to do FaceTime and stream the teacher live from her classroom to the student’s home so the student was able to catch up. We wouldn’t have even thought of doing that before with the slower Internet.”

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, Cleveland’s Babyland General, home of the Cabbage Patch Kids, made its first broadcast of its Christmas celebration to London over the North Georgia Network. Hundreds of doll collectors from around the world joined the event live online.

The 1,100 miles of new fiber optic network was built across eight counties with a 260-mile core transmission system redundant ring from Atlanta. NGN also provided an additional 840 miles of fiber to communities.

To date more than 300 businesses from Blue Ridge to Dawsonville are connected to the network, along with 42 schools, five colleges and universities, six libraries, 16 public safety agencies, 17 county and city governments, 29 medical facilities and about 2,000 homes. There are currently more than 4,000 potential connections to be completed in the future.

The network was built with state-of-the art equipment, employing 400 people and 22 companies from the region.

What’s next?

North Georgia Network will continue to build and operate the network in cooperation with its’ member EMCs Habersham and Blue Ridge Mountain, while Connect North Georgia will recruit business to the region.

With the network in place, the North Georgia Network has turned to attracting businesses and showing them how to take advantages of the opportunities that high-speed fiber optic Internet offers. Connect North Georgia, the economic development company of North Georgia Network, will assist businesses looking to maximize their Internet use.