Columbia County officials recently applied for a federal grant that would provide wireless Internet and other broadband services throughout many areas of the county.
"For a long time, we really wanted to put wireless at our parks and some other places around the county," said Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson. "Since we learned about this broadband stimulus grant that is available now, we figured this would be a wonderful way to finance this project."
The deadline to apply for the grant was Friday. The county will learn if they received funding for the project by mid-November, said Lewis Foster, an information technology manager for the county.
"Literally, hundreds of staff hours have been dedicated to this broadband stimulus application to try to give us the best possibility that we could to get it," Johnson said.
If funding is received, the county plans to lay 200 miles of fiber optic cable, construct about 60 towers and provide 60 wireless access points throughout the county, Johnson said Tuesday in a Management and Financial Services Committee meeting.
"Our initial thoughts are to put those (access points) in parks, senior centers and community centers," he said.
In addition to wireless Internet, the fiber optic cables would allow the county to connect all traffic signals, which would improve traffic flow and reduce gas emissions, Foster said.
"Also, you could be able to provide cameras at traffic signals for the sheriff's office to monitor traffic flow for accidents," he said. "You could actually get some detailed information."
The cameras would not be used for enforcement purposes, Johnson added.
Additionally, county facilities would be connected by fiber optic cables, including the cities of Harlem and Grovetown, Foster said.
Part of the stimulus package, Foster said, is to create jobs and provide infrastructure for broadband services for the underserved areas of the United States.
The grant would require that the county match funds by 20 percent.
"We actually have a plan on the ground right now (where) we're looking at $10 to $15 million," Johnson said.
He said several organizations have shown interest in becoming participating partners in the project, including Knology, MCG Health, Augusta Technical College, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the cities of Harlem and Grovetown.
After notification of funding is received, Foster said, the grant requires that the project be at least 67 percent complete within two years.
"We would certainly try to hit that as close as we could to that two-year mark," Johnson said. "It's not something we'd want to sit on."
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