Group takes broadband communications future into its own hands
Three years ago, a group of rural citizens in southwest Georgia got together and decided they couldn’t tolerate the lack of broadband connectivity in their community. So they took matters into their own hands and are bringing public safety along with the initiative.
Lee Conner was part of a group of four people who belonged to the Downtown Business Authority in Arlington, Ga. — population 1,800 — in 2005 when they began asking local businesses how the lack of broadband connectivity affected them. All of these businesses said they would die without broadband access because peanut farmers, seed companies and a host of other agriculture-based companies needed to find customers nationwide. Moreover, the region’s school districts had access to just a single 1.5 Mb/s T-1 line for all of the area’s schools. Connectivity constantly would crash as students needed to complete state-mandated tests.
Conner and others representing local governments, schools and businesses tapped into a new fund developed by the OneGeorgia BRIDGE Broadband Rural Initiative designed to help local communities access broadband services. They received $2.7 million in funding for five counties in the state — Baker, Calhoun, Early, Miller and Mitchell. The group became the South Georgia Regional Information Technology Authority (SGRITA), of which Conner is director.
“SGRITA is a group of local citizens who decided to bring change to our rural southwest Georgia counties,” Conner said. “If we did not do it ourselves no one else will. It’s not that the incumbent telecoms cannot make money in rural broadband markets. It’s that they can make a much higher ROI and quicker [return] elsewhere. Only local initiatives have the patience to wait five and 10 years for a 3 percent to 5 percent return on investment.”
SGRITA is using a microwave solution from backhaul solution provider DragonWave. It has completed the first phase of the network, using the vendor’s Horizon Compact radios on 25 towers. The system now covers 2000 square miles, providing 190 Mb/s of capacity to the five aforementioned counties.
A large Ethernet ring — 300 miles in circumference — was installed with microwave links extending coverage beyond that. That type of network has the potential to cover some 3,000 to 4,000 square miles in the long run, said Alan Solheim, vice president of product management with DragonWave.
SGRITA, which is in the black and expected to remain that way, is now able to provide high-speed internet service to area to about 100 industry and government entities, schools, and public-safety agencies. Applications include VOIP, content filtering and distance learning. For the public-safety community, SGRITA is working with local law enforcement to provide remote camera access and the core office connectivity they have been lacking, Conner said.
SGRITA also has moved the area’s schools from the bottom 8% in connectivity speed across the five-county region to the top 1% in the world, Conner said.
The next phase of the network will be to add a multipoint service to the existing network. SGRITA has acquired the 700 MHz license for a 10-county region and purchased 2.5 GHz spectrum from the local school system in order to provide a mobile broadband commercial service to area residents. It also will use the 700 MHz band to bring public safety further into the fold.
“When the public-safety version [of 700 MHz] is auctioned, it will be a state-wide contract,” Conner said. “We will team with that group that wins this bid to deploy in this region. … The mantra we keep repeating is to provide a single platform everyone can use that they could not afford to deploy themselves.”
SGRITA engineers are now testing RF equipment from IPWireless. The company’s TD-CDMA solution already is being used by the public-safety community in New York City. and has an upgrade path to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology.