Construction on the infrastructure for a countywide broadband network begins this week.
Columbia County officials will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at 2 p.m. Monday behind the library in Evans to start a project to lay more than 200 miles of fiber optic lines.
County commissioners recently approved a bid for the construction of a building to house the network's computer servers and another bid to start laying fiber optic lines.
The fiber optic cable will eventually circle the county.
ComTran Group of Buford, Ga., won the nearly $1.28 million bid to install the first phase of 26 miles of fiber. Eventually, 220 miles of fiber will be installed.
This first phase is a 100-day project that takes care of some of the more difficult digging, such as beneath railroad crossings. County Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson said fiber hookups also will be installed at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office during that phase.
Dabbs-Williams General Contractors LLC of Statesboro, Ga., produced the lowest bid of about $648,000 to construct Building F at the Evans Government Complex. The new building will double as a county maintenance office and the "point of presence" for the broadband network, Johnson said.
"That will be a big server room, but it has to be built to certain standards because it will be the backbone of the whole broadband system," he said. "It has to have redundant generators. Air conditioners have to be set just right. Walls have to be built to a certain thickness. It has to be very secure."
Despite the construction complexities, Johnson said, work should conclude in eight months.
Commissioners recently qualified seven more companies to bid on future fiber installation projects.
Already, 13 companies have qualified.
With the additional qualifiers, Johnson expects bids to go out soon for a second installation phase, which likely would start before the first phase has finished.
The projects are being funded with a federal grant of about $13.5 million.
The county also counts as a coup its recent switch from AT&T to U.S. Carrier as its Internet service provider. The switch will save the county about $810 a month and provide access to 56 Marietta in Atlanta.
"Fifty-six Marietta is what's called a broadband hotel ... where you have (fiber optic) lines coming in from all over the country into this one place," Johnson said.
The county will be able to use that access as a selling point for Internet providers willing to lease the use of the county's broadband network.
"That was a home run," Johnson said. "That access to 56 Marietta for less money a month has the potential to make us a lot of money when the broadband utility is up and running."
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