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Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday the state would spend an additional $240 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to build high-speed internet in rural areas that currently have no connectivity.
Combined with $408 million from a previous round of COVID-19 aid, plus funds from the Federal Communications Commission, nearly $1 billion will be given to utilities and others to try to provide relief. high-speed connections in parts of Georgia that lacked them.
Applications for the new round of grants open Monday.
The announcement comes as Republican Kemp vies for re-election with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in one of the nation’s highest-profile gubernatorial races. Abrams and other Democrats have criticized Kemp for taking credit for doling out federal money even as he voices opposition to federal spending. Abrams pledged on Tuesday to use money from a recent federal infrastructure bill to outpace Kemp in expanding broadband, an issue that enjoys broad bipartisan support.
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In February, when the state awarded the $408 million, officials projected the money would connect 132,000 of the remaining 482,000 homes and businesses that then had no fast connection.
The 49 electric co-ops, local governments, cable companies and others who won the first round of funding pledged to spend $330 million of their own money to match the federal money.
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The FCC previously awarded $326 million to serve nearly 180,000 sites in parts of Georgia through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
New money contenders provide upload and download speeds of 100 megabytes per second. The guidelines call on applicants to consider affordability as part of their plan and say they are “strongly encouraged” to offer a low-cost option. Providers must participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a rebate of up to $30 per month to eligible households.
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Kemp has decided to spend much of Georgia’s $4.8 billion in federal aid on broadband expansion, water and sewer improvements, and offsetting the negative economic impact of the pandemic.