Saturday May 28th, 2016 4:25AM

NGN passes milestone

By Staff
CLARKESVILLE - The North Georgia Network (NGN), funded by a $42 million federal grant that built 1,100 miles of high-speed, fiber optic network across eight rural northeast Georgia counties, recently passed a milestone with the closing of the federal grant program. Now, NGN now turns its attention to expanding the network and connecting new customers across the region.

"NGN has moved from being a project to being a company," NGN President Paul Belk told a group of economic development, education and business leaders recently. "We've gone from a certain amount of controlled chaos during the terms of the three-year federal grant, to the more systematic day-to-day company operation needed to sustain-and grow-this new and powerful network.

Belk's remarks were made at the July 2013 meeting of NGN's Community Advisory Board (CAB), which was established in 2009 as an avenue for community input and communication with the nonprofit NGN Cooperative board of directors.

"We're now concentrating on expanding beyond our grant-funded footprint so we can connect and serve more customers," Belk said. "We're also developing new network partnerships and making strategic regional interconnections that increase NGN's value. Everything we're doing is about giving our communities a competitive edge."

The amount of fiber optic connections built to new customers under the grant was limited by funding and geography, Belk commented. "There are lots of people and businesses who need improved, modern Internet service that NGN can deliver, and we are working to get to them."

Community Advisory Board Chairman Bryson Payne, Ph.D., who is also head of the computer science department at the University of North Georgia, told CAB members "Now that NGN is moving beyond the grant into its next phase of growth, we are excited. We want to take full advantage of the network to support entrepreneurs and small businesses and recruit new businesses and the jobs they bring. We want to provide technology-based education, training and workforce development for the digital economy."

In his remarks to the CAB group, which represents communities, the state, the University of North Georgia and regional businesses, Belk said that NGN is developing ways to reach further into communities for businesses and citizens not connected under the federal grant. "Were developing wireless and fiber solutions to reach the next layer of customers," he said, "and growing our support staff to make those moves."

The North Georgia Network provides high-speed fiber optics Internet service to businesses, schools, health care and governmental agencies, as well as residents in some areas. It was funded by the federal broadband program, Habersham and Blue Ridge Mountain EMCs, the state of Georgia, the University of North Georgia and local communities in the region. Built to support economic development and job creation, the network serves Dawson, Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union and White counties, with Franklin, Hart and Stephens counties soon to be connected.

Vice-President Joe Biden visited Impulse Manufacturing in Dawsonville kicked off $7.2 billion in Recovery Act broadband grant and loan programs. Some of that money was earmarked for the North Georgia Network.

('s Ken Stanford and Jerry Gunn contributed to this story.(
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