Thomson and McDuffie County are taking another step toward making wireless internet hotspots available in downtown and several other areas throughout the county. Funding for the network could come through the state's Wireless Communities Georgia Program grant.
Thomson-McDuffie County Information Technology Director Kelly Evans said the grant application will be turned in by tomorrow. The state program - managed by the Georgia Technology Authority - will fund wireless broadband in three communities for a total of $4 million.
"Broadband is the new dial tone for the 21st century," said Gov. Sonny Perdue in a press release. "We cannot imagine any business, much less an entire community, operating without access to reliable telephone service. Today, broadband Internet access is just as important to our communications infrastructure."
Another program from the OneGeorgia Authority will provide $5 million to rural communities that are looking to establish any kind of broadband network. Mrs. Evans said coupling with surrounding counties to apply for the grants could improve McDuffie's chances.
The grants are aimed at promoting economic development, expanding educational opportunities and improving government services. Mrs. Evans said with McDuffie's ongoing downtown revitalization, the planned local government complex as well as cooperation with the school system, the county's momentum lines up with the grant's purposes.
"The grant is really for broadband access in cities, so it will allow us to create a downtown wireless canopy," Mrs. Evans said, adding that it would not be used to compete with private sector providers. " ...It may be a situation where downtown development could take it and use it to encourage people to come back downtown."
Money is already set aside to install Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) equipment that would electronically measure and monitor the water and sewer systems through wireless connections. The grant would help provide infrastructure for the telemetry plus open up broadband opportunities on the same system.
Mrs. Evans said to apply for the grant, she had to cooperatively develop a business model for wireless and phased technical specifications. She received permission this week to use the City of Philadelphia's wireless deployment business model - the leading model in the country - to help form McDuffie's.
Despite the fact that wireless internet probably won't be commercially available, Mrs. Evans said if McDuffie receives the grant, it would be what amounts to a utility upgrade that would boost the business community as well as the school system.
"What people need to understand is that this is as important to McDuffie County as the water and sewer and gas systems," she said. " ...Overcoming the digital divide is what makes going after wireless inside the city limits a priority. You have to overcome the digital divide for these children or they'll never claim a 21st century education."
The state will announce which communities receive Wireless Communities grant on Sept. 1.