Step across the county line in Thomas County, Georgia and you will be in Florida. Its county seat, Thomasville, has been chosen as a one of the best places to retire. Thomasville's website is filled with pics of grand white pillared porches, rose gardens, and long winding paths lined with graceful oaks. It strikes me as a place to sit, sip a mint julep, and enjoy a passing breeze.
Appearances can be deceiving. Thomasville has been keeping up with the times by enhancing their fiber optic capabilities since 1995. While their project began as city investment, they are now part of a community network that serves several other local municipalities spanning several counties. The network brought services to an area the private providers had neglected.
The network began by connecting local schools, hospitals, and businesses, but quickly attracted residential subscribers. Within two years, neighboring Cairo (Grady County), Camilla (Mitchell County), and Moultrie (Colquitt County) joined Thomasville to create the collaborative development authority, now sometimes referred to as the South Georgia Governmental Services Authority. The purpose of the Authority was to expand Community Network Services (CNS) to reach more of the region in more ways. While each town benefits from connecting to the other three, they all maintain their own network as part of the CNS system. A few smaller towns in the area are also part of the network.
Past press releases record many instances of community, success, and positive use of their network. From the very beginning of CNS, it was apparent that the local leaders knew the community needed to act for itself. These words, spoken in 1997, have been echoed many times by the founders of municipal networks:
"Rural Georgia has been bypassed by technology for a long time," said Thomasville City Manager Tom Berry. "If we want economic development to occur here, we have to make sure the technology those businesses need is available."
A press release in 2001 described the local celebration as the first cable customers were hooked up to service in Moultrie. Clearly, the sense of community pride prevailed:
"I think the beauty of this thing is it's community owned," City Manager Tony Rojas said Tuesday. "I think we need to remember that's exactly why the city council went forward in issuing bonds and developing this latest technology or infrastructure for telecommunications was because the private sector was not providing that level of service our citizens are deserving of. Basically, because we're rural Georgia, they did not want to make that investment."
Over in Cairo, the enthusiasm for the network was apparent. In February, 2002:
CNS Cairo is proud to announce Ralphine Glenn and her daughter, Ja-Reese Miller, as the 1,000th CNS customers. The ongoing increase in the CNS customer base has not only benefited the community but the City as well. According to [City Manager Robert] Hopkins, "We are delighted at the way the community has supported CNS by becoming customers and giving us a vote of confidence in this new service." Currently, the City of Cairo is averaging at least 40 new customers a week.
In addition to connecting the local schools via fiber, CNS and its member communities have used the network for interactive distance learning to promote the importance of voting. CNS also teamed up with the Freedom Calls Foundation to offer free videoconferencing between service members in Iraq and their Georgia loved ones. There was even a time when a local high school teacher taught from home via videoconferencing while her injured leg healed.
Since its inception in 1997, CNS has continued to upgrade with a combination of fiber, digital cable television, telephone service, and wireless service. Through time, they have continued to improve the network offerings to the public. Currently, CNS is upgrading to improve it's reliability, increase bandwidth, and improve signal strength.