ATLANTA — A local utility and telephone company in Coastal Georgia are teaming up to offer high-speed broadband service in three counties.

Coastal Electric Cooperative of Midway and Darien Communications will invest $40 million with new broadband provider Coastal Fiber Inc., an affiliate of the cooperative, to serve 16,000 homes and businesses in Liberty, Bryan and Long counties. The first phase of the project is due to be completed in four years, with the first customers connected as early as next year.

“I am thankful to Coastal Electric Cooperative for stepping up to help hardworking Georgians gain access to new job opportunities, improved education tools, telemedicine, and much more,” Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday. “This project will allow thousands of Georgians to have access to reliable, high-speed internet — which is a fundamental part of continued growth.”

The coastal project is only the latest in a series of broadband expansions launched across rural Georgia since the General Assembly passed legislation two years ago authorizing Georgia electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) to get into the broadband business. In all, EMC broadband projects are bringing high-speed internet to about 200,000 Georgia homes and businesses.

The state is also stepping up the investment of public dollars in rural broadband. Between them, the fiscal 2021 mid-year budget and the fiscal 2022 spending plan the General Assembly adopted during this year’s legislative session earmarked $30 million for rural broadband projects.

The governor also has made expanding broadband in Georgia the priority for one of three committees he formed late last month to determine how to spend $4.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

While it’s long been clear that rural Georgia needed high-speed internet connectivity to compete economically, the push for broadband projects took on even greater urgency when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close, putting students living in rural areas without internet service at a disadvantage.

“Our community deserves access to the tools that help our residents and businesses successfully participate in today’s economy,” said state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway. “Thanks to Coastal Electric and Darien Communications for making broadband a reality in this area.”

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