Georgia’s rural communities can seek federal funds for broadband

By David Pendered

The successful rollout of a rural broadband program in Tennessee, highlighted Tuesday in a federal statement, could serve as a template for some of the upcoming broadband efforts that state lawmakers have supported in Georgia’s rural communities.

Like a European cathedral that’s more a tourist attraction than a place of worship, Snellings Grocery in Pinehurst reminds of what used to be. The store is located in Dooly County, which has lost an estimated 6 percent of its population this decade, according to the Census. File/Credit: Brian Brown/vanishingsouthgeorgia.com

The town the statement mentioned is Lafayette, Tn. There’s not an interstate highway within miles of the town’s borders, located north of Nashville near the border of Kentucky.

LaFayette won a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the grant intends to promote broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas. The town built a broadband program that won significant recognition.

The USDA is accepting grant applications through May 14 for grants ranging from $100,000 to $3 million. The grants are available to state and local governments, federally recognized tribes, and nonprofit and for-profit organizations, according to the criteria. Recipients must be able to match 15 percent of the grant.

“E-connectivity is essential to the economic vitality and quality of life in rural communities,” Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett said in the Tuesday statement. “Investing in broadband can strengthen rural economic growth and improve critical access to jobs, education, health care and social services.”

This program has the potential to jump-start some of the broadband efforts in Georgia’s rural communities that have lagged for a lack of funding. The once behemoth rural Georgia is disappearing as residents depart for jobs and opportunities elsewhere.

Georgia, like Tennessee, has a number of metro areas that are thriving while rural areas are at risk of collapsing under the weight of the Internet-driven global economy.

For instance, the Georgia Ports Authority is promoting its inland ports, in northwest and southwest Georgia. But limits exist as to the amount of goods that the regions can produce that are favored by oversea markets.

Looking at the map, LaFayette appears to be a fairly isolated place on a highland rim northeast of Nashville. When it comes to shopping and meeting the needs of modern life, Bowling Green, Ky. appears to be the closest metropolitan community.

These conditions liken LaFayette to any number of Georgia cities and counties that state lawmakers are trying to uplift. The General Assembly has identified the demise of rural Georgia as a major issue — losses that date back decades and now threaten public institutions ranging from hospitals to access to dialysis treatment to adequate schools and institutions of higher learning.

Tennessee’s North Central Telephone Cooperative is located in LaFayette.

The initiative of rural LaFayette, Tn. to use a federal grant to develop its broadband capacity could be a role model for Georgia communities that want to connect, or improve connections, to the Internet. Credit: Mapquest, David Pendered

NCTC was one of only 13 companies in the country that received a 2014 Smart Rural Community Showcase Award. The award from the Rural Broadband Association recognized the efforts by LaFayette’s community leaders to connect residents with the Internet — and all the economic benefits that the Internet can provide.

As the statement issued Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture observed:

“Tennessee’s North Central Telephone Cooperative received a grant to offer gigabyte speed internet at reasonable rates. Today, the company provides e-connectivity services such as highs-speed broadband, television, security and cloud systems. NCTC was nationally recognized when it received a Smart Rural Community Showcase Award.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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