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Saturday July 4th, 2015 3:02AM

Region Broadband fiber optic network project moves forward

By Staff
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DAHLONEGA - The North Georgia Network has crossed Clayton Mountain and the Appalachian Trail to complete the first leg of the 260-mile core ring that will bring a high-speed fiber optic network to several north Georgia counties.

The fiber-optic network will benefit Dawson, Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union and White counties with more reliable and more affordable high-speed Internet access.

"Ultimately, we want this network to change the shape of education, business and the economy across the rural counties of north Georgia," said Bruce Abraham, president and CEO of North Georgia Network, a non-profit organization seeking to improve economic development and education in north Georgia.

"The fiber optic network will open north Georgia to global business, helping local businesses grow and create more jobs. In the end, we want it to support a new technology-based economy for generations to come."

The trail crossing also joins the existing networks of two participating EMCs, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC, who were previously unable to connect across the mountains.

The network has been routed by schools, universities, technical colleges, hospitals and government offices, bringing it close to thousands of businesses and homes. It will be able to support applications such as eCommerce, eGovernment, high-definition video and social networking that require enormous amounts of bandwidth and will allow businesses to better compete in the global economy, enable schools to offer more distance learning, support more healthcare services and provide area citizens with world-class connectivity.

"One of the key features of the fiber optic network is the speed in moving digital materials," Abraham said. "We've had businesses refuse to relocate to our region because our Internet service was not fast enough. That is about to change."

Connecting back to the Internet hub in Atlanta from two directions, the 260-mile core ring which stretches over the Appalachians will be completed by January 2012. Build out will continue on the "middle mile" and "last mile" network, which will run fiber optics to industrial parks, schools and individual businesses and homes. The entire project will be completed by Dec. 31, 2012.

One of the main issues for getting high-speed Internet access to this region in the past has been the terrain. The mountains are beautiful, but they aren't conducive to technology. Nor does anyone want to ruin the amazing views.

The North Georgia Network cooperated with the U.S. Forest Service, Georgia Office of Historic Preservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, National Indian Tribes, a group of citizens named Forest Watch, Georgia Department of Transportation and local governments to get the approvals and environmental go-ahead to cross the trail.

"There are wildlife management areas, streams and state parks all around, so it was imperative that we work closely with all concerned groups as we planned the fiber optic cable route," Abraham said.

Workers buried the fiber cables across the mountains about three feet beneath the surface in a narrow channel. They bored to a similar depth under the trail and pulled the armored fiber cable under the trail without disturbing the pathway.

The North Georgia Network began as a joint effort of economic development professionals in Dawson, Forsyth, Lumpkin, Union and White counties, North Georgia College & State University, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC. The goal was to lay a foundation for a new technology-based economy in the region.

The $42 million North Georgia Network broadband infrastructure project is made possible in large part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). ARRA provided grant funds to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to support major improvements in broadband infrastructure for the nation's digitally unserved and underserved. In December 2009, NGN became the first organization to be awarded a grant through the program, receiving $33 million under the NTIA's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Additional $ 9 million funding came from the State of Georgia, electric utilities and participating local communities
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