published Friday, January 21st, 2011

Fiber-optic Internet coming to North Georgia


by Andy Johns

CALHOUN, Ga. -- North Georgians soon could get the same cutting-edge Internet speed as Chattanooga if the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission achieves a 2011 goal to break ground on a network of high-speed fiber-optic lines.

"Northwest Georgia is about to get one of the most complex machines available," said Greg Laudeman, project manager for Georgia Tech's Community Innovation Services.

But he also issued a challenge.

"Now what are you going to do with it?" Laudeman asked. "You're going to have to use it, not just get it."

Dubbed the Appalachian Valley Fiber Network, the 460-mile network will connect Trenton, Summerville, Calhoun, Cartersville, Rome, Rockmart, Cedartown and Anniston, Ala. It's funded by a $21.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and construction is scheduled to start this spring.

Chattanooga has the fastest Internet available in the nation through an EPB fiber-optic network capable of handling 1 gigabit of information per second. Laudeman said that, like Chattanooga, the new network would tap into the main fiber artery running through the area from Miami to Chicago.

According to documents from the commission provided at a meeting Thursday, the network would connect 185 "community anchor institutions," including 16 schools and more than 100 government buildings. In all, 144,000 households and 8,300 businesses would gain access to the ultrafast network.

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell, who attended the meeting, said two of her county's industrial sites already are patched into the fiber network. She said that has drawn interest from potential tenants.

Aside from the fiber network, Regional Commission officials expressed much uncertainty about 2011.

The commission helps distribute federal and state grants throughout Northwest Georgia, and members see less money on the horizon.

"Like everybody else, we watch the news," said Iris Petersmarck, the commission's Aging Service coordinator. "We do expect to get some [budget] cuts; we don't know where those will be."

Others, including Chairman Billy Croker, who was appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, aren't even sure whether they will be kept on board.

"I don't know what I am," Croker joked with the group. "I'm on borrowed time."

Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6324.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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