The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN) announced the four communities selected for its 2021 Georgia Smart Communities Challenge (GA Smart), which allows localities across the state to apply for research assistance that empowers them to envision, explore, and plan for a “smart” future.
The 2021 cohort includes the cities of Woodbury and Concord, and Pike and Spalding counties. As GA Smart communities, the cohort will work with researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology to expand and enhance connectivity and explore additional applications that will improve their services, efficiencies, and cost savings. The community connectivity focus for this cohort aims to link them with the resources they need to pilot relevant smart solutions within the two-year GA Smart program.
- The City of Woodbury: Woodbury has employed an innovative Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) network as a publicly owned utility, serving 50 community members. Georgia Tech researchers will assist in the enhancement and expansion of the WISP network by exploring measurement-driven dashboards for evaluating the end-user experience. They will also explore connectivity needs for the proposed Meriwether County AgTech Center for Innovation (MACI).
- The City of Concord: With a network similar to Woodbury’s, city representatives and Georgia Tech researchers will work together to advance connectivity in the city through further testing, evaluation, and community engagement. They will look to address challenges to wireless networks such as geographic terrain, natural foliage, and adoption rates. Tech researchers will also help Concord explore connectivity applications such as having water sensors available in public facilities for operational efficiency and potential cost savings.
- Pike County: As infrastructure investments are often driven by an intersection of cost and functionality, Tech will help Pike administrators analyze technologies to improve connectivity countywide, including exploring different broadband options to identify solutions that are both cost effective and reliable for consumers.
- Spalding County: Believing that access to the internet is a driver of economic development, officials want to identify methods to increase broadband access in the area. Many internet service providers are unable or unwilling to provide access to households or businesses that are separated from other connections by acres or miles. Tech researchers will provide Spalding leaders with perspective on technology hardware and software options that will meet the county’s needs, as well as evaluate the current status of connectivity and how to improve it.
“Communities experiencing gaps in connectivity across the state of Georgia have sought creative solutions to bridge them, and still more communities are seeking answers about how to get connected,” said Debra Lam, executive director of PIN. “This cohort has taken steps toward being innovative in a collaborative way. By providing research services to these neighboring communities with established relationships and an interest in coordinating connectivity efforts across city and county borders, GA Smart can make a regional impact and follow the natural expansion of these services across the area. This placemaking opportunity allows communities to plan together, avoid redundancies, and accomplish more collectively.”
The cohort will be working with researchers from Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, including professor Ellen Zegura, the Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications, and associate professor Ada Gavrilovska.
“The pandemic has made it clear that dependable access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” said Ángel Cabrera, president of Georgia Tech. “At Georgia Tech, we believe in the power of technology to improve lives and communities, especially in our state, and we look forward to working with the winners of this year’s Georgia Smart Communities Challenge to achieve just that.”
Meet the Communities
As the first city to be declared “Broadband Ready” by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in 2020, the City of Woodbury has pioneered a way forward for communities unserved by traditional broadband.
“Meeting the needs of our ever-changing world requires diversity in thought and a willingness to move boldly into the future,” said City of Woodbury Mayor Steve Ledbetter. “Our goal is to push beyond the possible and be a part of leading our community and our state into the future.”
“The pandemic underscores just how critical connectivity can be for a community’s economic well-being,” said City of Concord Mayor John Strickland. “Covid-19 made it clear that the internet is necessary for education, healthcare, and business, as well as access to important real-time information. We are fortunate to be geographically close to Woodbury, which introduced us to their service provider. Working together, small cities and counties can provide solutions that will serve more people at a lower cost.
Brandon Rogers, Pike County manager, echoed those sentiments. “We want to serve the citizens of the community by ensuring options for broadband access in all areas of the county, so that no communities are left behind in the digital divide. We’re excited to be working with Georgia Tech as we seek out reliable sources for connectivity that can reach unserved areas of the county at an affordable price range for all of our residents and all of our municipalities.”
Regional cooperation is a key differentiator, said Jessica Simmons, deputy chief information officer at the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA).
“Pooling strategies and resource capabilities for connectivity to benefit the broader region complements the state’s initiative to promote broadband deployment in unserved parts of Georgia,” she said. “This regional effort builds exactly the kind of momentum we want to see in rural areas that lack high-speed internet access.”
Since 2018, GA Smart has served 12 communities across the state of Georgia in a variety of projects, ranging from installing sea-level and traffic sensors to planning for connected vehicle technology. Alumni from the GA Smart program have successfully implemented their projects and garnered additional funding and technical assistance to continue their projects beyond the program period, continuing to service their residents and meet their community’s goals.
The GA Smart program has facilitated community engagement across the state by hosting more than 40 community meetings, provided in excess of 140 technologies deployed in its funded projects, and provided research support that led to successful grant proposals, academic presentations, and publications.