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Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 2:44pm

Columbia County Gets Broadband Grant

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has awarded Columbia County a $13.5 million federal stimulus grant to develop broadband infrastructure.

The grant will fund the construction of a fiber optic network stretching 220 miles across the county. The network will mean homes in rural areas can subscribe to broadband services. It will also create 60 free public wi-fi hotspots, connect schools in a way that will allow one teacher to lead classes for students in multiple locations at one time, and create a broadband network that will link medical centers together.

It will also enhance wireless communications as well as surveillance by law enforcement officials with video cameras linked to the internet.

In this affluent county that borders Augusta, many residents already have access to high speed internet.

But that's mostly in Martinez and Evans, which are right next to Augusta. The other half of the county farther away is more sparsely populated, and many people there currently can only use slow dial-up connections, if they have internet at all. That's because private carriers say establishing infrastructure across many miles for fewer people is not economically feasible.

The county commission, board of education, and several other agencies are helping fund another $4.5 million for the new infrastructure.

NTIA is a division of the U.S. Commerce Department. County commissioners say they are pursuing another grant that would serve the greater 14-county region.