News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Oct. 1, 2012
EVANS, Ga. -- Columbia County is on the cutting edge of technology with its new county broadband utility. It broke ground in December of 2010, and now, each county department is being connected to the network.
The work is mostly being paid for with a $13.5 million grant from the federal government, and it's starting to go live
Believe it or not, even at the peaceful Reed Creek Park Wetlands and Interpretive Center in Evans, you can connect to Wi-Fi.
"It's nice to know that we can be here at the park and I can link on to her website and do her lessons here at the park," said Jennie Smith.
Smith and her daughter, Maren, were taking their geography lesson outside, learning about compasses.
"We love this park, we come as often as we can and we like to bring our dogs," she said.
And now they can do even more learning, thanks to the new broadband network.
"We had to show where we would put infrastructure out in the under-served and un-served areas of Columbia County," said Lewis Foster, the county broadband manager.
Crews have spent nearly two years working to install 200 miles of fiber-optic cable all over the county. Government buildings and parks will now have free Wi-Fi and become inter-connected.
"We needed connectivity to all government facilities, primarily for our public safety network, which we desperately needed because we could not get communications throughout the county," Foster said.
Seven towers, along with the 200 miles of fiber-optic cable, all lead to the headquarters in Evans.
"Ultimate goal is to expand broadband in Columbia County so we can compete against other markets, so we can bring industry to our county," Foster said.
It's also a commercial venture, a chance to bring wireless opportunities to many more people.
"We're building the major highways connecting government facilities, then another provider can actually build out to the home or business. We've got infrastructure and we'll be able to lease it at a reasonable cost to off set our operating costs," he said.
And they're off to a good start.
"We do have some potential customers. That's look at leasing some of our infrastructure," Foster said.
The price tag is about $20 million total. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office also spent another $6 million to upgrade its communications so its system will be a lot better than it was before, meaning faster service and response times.
They'll continue working to connect each department and park in the coming weeks.