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Irwin EMC to boost broadband access for several rural South Ga. counties

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 7:27 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2021 at 7:28 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Irwin EMC is working to bring fiber broadband into Ben Hill, Berrien, Coffee, Irwin, Tift, Turner, Wilcox and Worth counties.

They are investing nearly $50 million to bring more broadband into those eight counties.

What will the expansion mean?

Irwin EMC President and CEO Randy Crenshaw said this expansion will help the community grow and bring in industries.

“This will be big technology that will enhance the operation on the farm it will allow businesses to locate in rural areas, allow children and folks to stay home and build out in our areas,” Crenshaw said.

Randy Crenshaw is the president and CEO of Irwin EMC.
Randy Crenshaw is the president and CEO of Irwin EMC.(WALB)

Sen. Tyler Harper said this broadband expansion will help Georgia’s No. 1 industry, farming.

“Without this ability to have the access, they’re not able to compete on a worldwide market on a global scale and that’s why this is also important to rural Georgia because it’s important to our state’s No. 1 industry,” Harper said.

Public Service Commissioner Jason Shaw said he saw what little connectivity his family had during the pandemic when his kids had to go virtual for school.

“My nieces and nephews in metro Atlanta didn’t miss a beat. School closed Friday, Monday morning, they were virtual learning. We couldn’t do that because we don’t have that connectivity,” Shaw said.

Shaw said Irwin EMC’s investment in fiber broadband will fix rural Georgia’s internet issues.

How will this impact Irwin County businesses?

An Irwin County business owner said he never thought internet connection would be as big of a hurdle as it’s been. Irwin EMC, a nonprofit that’s teaming up with internet provider Conexon Connect, is working to fix that.

Paulk Vineyards is just one of the businesses that will benefit from this expansion.

Director of Winery Operations Chris Paulk said better broadband means more business.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Paulk said.

Chris Paulk is the director of winery operations for Paulk Vineyards.
Chris Paulk is the director of winery operations for Paulk Vineyards.(WALB)

Paulk is part of a third generation muscadine vineyard, a business that his grandfather started 50 years ago.

“I never imagined 20 years ago when I came back to the farm that the internet would be such an issue,” he said.

Paulk said this lack of connection made it difficult to reach customers virtually, as well as do business with potential buyers.

“We’d say we just don’t have good internet. We can’t download your file you sent us. They would look at us like we’re from another planet. Our fear is that they question our capabilities to conduct business adequately because we can’t communicate,” Paulk said.

Mobile hotspots, satellite internet service and traveling into town were just some of their last resorts.

Now, Paulk is hoping he won’t need those options anymore.

Competing and growing is what Paulk is hopeful this expansion will do for businesses.

“I’m so excited,” Paulks said. “Farmers are able to expand their operations or hire more people where they couldn’t have before because connectivity is such an issue. Retail businesses can conduct business and process things as simple as a credit card transaction where you couldn’t before. I just see a lot of exciting opportunities for business and families.”

Irwin EMC is expanding broadband access in eight South Georgia counties.
Irwin EMC is expanding broadband access in eight South Georgia counties.(WALB)
What’s next?

Irwin EMC said they plan to start getting customers connected in summer 2022.

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