Georgia Gov. Roy E. Barnes has announced plans to install and deliver high-speed internet access to every rural school and resident in the state within the next 12 months.

The Georgia Department of Education has contracted with BellSouth Corp. to build a high-speed network that will connect approximately 1,800 schools in the state to the internet within the next 12 months.

“This project will improve our schools and prepare children all across Georgia for work in the 21st century,” Barnes said.

BellSouth also will provide high-speed internet access in every region of the state to encourage business development. The company calls its plan the largest deployment of rural broadband capacity in the nation.

“This is a giant step in bridging the digital divide in Georgia. This infrastructure can be a start in eliminating the disadvantage of distance for people, businesses, governments, and schools,” said Phil Jacobs, BellSouth’s president for Georgia.

Although some schools in Georgia have been using DSL or other high-speed connections, many have been slow to connect to the internet.

“Most schools have a bunch of students trying to share a 56K modem—now they will have five times that power,” said Jim Flowers, the governor’s technology advisor.

As part of the initiative, BellSouth promises to increase access speeds for the state’s schools from an average 38 kilobits per second to a minimum of 256 kilobits per second

“That kind of service isn’t cheap, but under BellSouth’s arrangement, there will be no charge to schools for backbone service or internet service,” Barnes said.

The high-speed infrastructure, which will cost about $30 million a year for the next four years, is being funded by BellSouth capital investments and with tax incentives provided through the state’s Business Expansion and Support Act, which gives companies tax breaks to encourage investments in Georgia’s rural areas.

“There is most definitely a cost for deploying broadband capability in rural areas—a cost that may never be recovered,” Jacobs said. “Through these incentives, however, that risk is mitigated to the point where we can quickly put capital and equipment in place to start delivering the promise of broadband to all Georgians.”

Most of the infrastructure can be built within the next 12 months, Jacobs said.

The Georgia Department of Education has contracted with BellSouth to deliver broadband internet access to the state’s schools once the network backbone is in place. Funding from the federal eRate program will subsidize about 72 percent of the cost of the service, BellSouth said. The rest will be paid by the state.

Carol Vander Gheynst, coordinator of planning and instructional technology at the Muscogee County School District in Columbus, Ga., said it was good news to find out the cost of the service would be absorbed by the state and not the district.

“That will save a tremendous amount of money that we can put into electronics and hardware,” she said. “I know teachers will be a lot happier. At certain times, their access to the internet, considering our bandwidth, has been limited. They will have a lot more freedom.”

Broadband access will be installed first in the communities of Albany, Americus, Bremen, Brunswick, Columbus, Dublin, Eastman, Elberton, Gainesville, Macon, Rockmart, Savannah, Thomasville, Thomson, Valdosta, Warner Robins, and Waycross. BellSouth already provides high-speed service in Atlanta, Augusta, Athens, Carrollton, and Rome.

“The internet has the potential to revolutionize education,” Barnes said. “A child with internet access in Americus will have more educational resources at her fingertips than a child without it in the richest neighborhood in New York.”

Gov. Roy Barnes’ office

BellSouth Corp.