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Mountain counties get grant to study fiber optic network
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Gov. Sonny Perdue talks about the benefits of the One Georgia funds.

DAHLONEGA — A quartet of Lumpkin County officials welcomed Gov. Sonny Perdue to town by singing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." Perdue later responded by playing Santa Claus.

The One Georgia Authority, the state panel that administers funds from the settlement with tobacco companies, met Monday at North Georgia College & State University. Perdue is chairman of the authority and was joined by state officials who serve on the panel, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Chestnut Mountain Republican.

The authority awarded Lumpkin, Dawson, White and Union counties a $192,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for improved fiber optic communications in the mountain region.

"This is a chance of a lifetime," said Bruce Abraham, executive director of the Lumpkin County Development Authority. "We will see the potential of this project."

Abraham said the study will be completed by spring. He said the counties involved then would seek more state funds for the construction of the network, which he estimated could cost $10 million.

Similar projects have been completed in South Georgia.

"One Georgia has been a huge success," Perdue said. "It is continuing on, leveraging billions of dollars of investment through these tobacco funds that we are using for the right purpose."

The authority approved a number of grant and loan projects statewide Monday.

"This is about jobs and economic development, particularly in rural counties," said Cagle. "When you look at bringing in infrastructure to create jobs, that’s critically important."

The funds for the Northeast Georgia project are from the Broadband Rural Initiative to Develop Georgia’s Economy or BRIDGE Fund.

Officials with North Georgia College are hopeful that increased broadband connectivity would benefit the university.

State Sen. Eugene "Chip" Pearson, R-Dawsonville, was pleased that the grant is a cooperative effort among four counties.

"It’s crucial to make these things work," Pearson said. "We have 159 counties in Georgia and that makes a lot of projects difficult. It is a necessity that we work together."