Commission aims to find new funding for Fredonia broadband

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, June 30, 2021

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At Monday’s Chambers County Commission meeting, Chris Busby, Chambers County Development Authority director of commercial and community development, addressed the status of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that hoped to bring high-speed internet access to the Fredonia area.

Busby said because this is a HUD project, it requires low to moderate-income housing levels and the census tract used to determine if the project met the 50% low to moderate-income increased substantially.

“The area we did was about 1.7 miles, however, the census tract that HUD is looking at to determine our low to moderate-income is a massive census tract,” Busby said. “So, whereas we had this tiny little 1.7-mile area, that we were applying for and we had done research and determined that it was low to moderate-income when it expanded and they applied the census tract to it, it knocked up the income substantially to where this is no longer 50% low to moderate income.”

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Fredonia resident and Muscogee County, Georgia educator Karen Kelley asked the commission and Busby to keep Fredonia at the top of mind when other grant opportunities became available that may fit her community.

“I would like to ask that you guys don’t let this drop here,” Kelley said. “And that you please continue the efforts to fund this in some way, and please keep it on the agenda, and in the plan as grant money becomes available for broadband access because we really need it in our community.”

Kelley shared with the commission the struggles that she and her family experienced during the pandemic. Kelley said her husband is also an educator and the couple have two children; their son is a freshman in college and their daughter will be a senior in high school. Kelley said because service is not only slow but also unreliable in their community they are unable to have multiple people on a video call.

“We can’t Zoom at the same time,” she told the commission. “We try to schedule dates at different times for that reason. So, when my son had his finals for college, he would schedule them late, and he still got kicked out of one of them and had to go back and reschedule it.”

Busby and Commission Chairman Sam Bradford assured Kelley and those in the Fredonia community that they would not give up on bringing high-speed broadband to the area.

“Just because this project did not work out the way we wanted to does not mean we’re going to forget about this area,” Busby said. “I know the commission is passionate about it. I am passionate about it, getting everyone broadband in this county. I will say, we have already started applying, we already got other grants we are working on.”

Busby also added that through a residents’ dispute with the FCC, Fredonia is now deemed to be an underserved broadband area and is eligible for federal grants.

“That opens the door for us to really start going aggressively,” Busby said.

Busby said they were left with three options now that the Fredonia project was off the table. The first option was to submit the project as-is and most likely be denied, which would cause the county to lose the funding altogether.

The second option is to find another project to apply for, or option three, go door to door and ask each resident to provide proof of income to prove the area meets the 50% low to moderate-income level. Busby said he did not feel that was a feasible or appropriate option, so the decision was made to find another project suitable for the original grant.

Back in March, the Chambers County Commission discussed the opportunity for the county to receive roughly $400,000 from the federal CARES Act. The funding will be sought through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).