Pictured above top, from left to right, Donalsonville City Clerk Christina Covers, Donalsonville City Manager Steve Hicks, City Council members Travis Brooks, Lindsay Register, Flossie Smith, Mayor Dan Ponder, Council members Mitzy Moye, Ed Bond and Mitchell Blanks, and City Communications Director Jeff Hatcher; pictured immediately above, receiving the award in Atlanta are Mayor Dan Ponder and Council members Lindsay Register, Mitchell Blanks, Flossie Smith and Ed Bond
The City of Donalsonville won the inaugural Visionary City Award presented by Georgia Trend magazine and the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) during the association’s Cities United Summit in Atlanta on Sunday, January 26. It is one of nine cities from across Georgia to receive the accomplishment. Donalsonville won in the small city category. Judges noted the city’s eDonalsonville initiative, which has made affordable, fixed wireless broadband possible for residents and businesses in this rural city. On accepting the award for the city Donalsonville Mayor Dan Ponder commented, “I am very happy for our city to be recognized for this award. The eDonalsonville project continues to slowly grow and we look forward to even greater things in the future.”
Nine cities from across Georgia received the inaugural Visionary City Award representing three population categories: small (under 4,999), medium (5,000-24,999) and large (25,000 and over), these cities have created positive community change through effective civic engagement and collaboration and have fostered healthy working relationships that make their communities places where people truly love to live and work.
“These cities exemplify what it means to be forward-thinking for their residents and generations to come and also serve as inspiring examples of civility, collaboration and creating communities of positive change across Georgia, said GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson. “It’s our privilege to honor the elected officials, city staff and community leaders of these nine cities who’ve led these initiatives and projects. They also serve as inspiring examples of civility, collaboration and creating communities of positive change across Georgia.”
In addition to Donalsonville, Hogansville, and Winterville also won in the “Small City Category. In the “Medium City Category,” Adel, Thomasville and Decatur took home the honors, and in the “Large City Category” Marietta, Chamblee and Sugar Hill were the award recipients.
Judges for the 2020 Visionary City Award represented influential entities including Georgia Power, the Department of Community Affairs and the Atlanta Regional Commission. In addition to being recognized during GMA’s Cities United Summit, winning cities will be highlighted in the February issue of Georgia Trend.
Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, research, training, employee benefit and technical consulting services to its 538 member cities.
In 2016, working with various partners, the Mayor and Council of the City of Donalsonville seized upon an opportunity to provide wireless broadband services to the residents of the City and created eDonalsonville. The Mayor and Council recognized that the level of service provided by the current providers of internet barely addressed the growing demand for internet services as the current providers did not provide adequate upload and download speeds to keep up with the demands. The City of Donalsonville truly meets the definition of rural broadband but there was no indication that efforts were directed to enhancing or improving services in rural Southwest Georgia. The eDonalsonville project was a means to accomplish these objectives in the City of Donalsonville and ultimately to the citizens of Seminole County.
eDonalsonville’s affordable pricing structure with no deposits, no contracts, no installation fees in most cases, and no “bundling“ requirements make it easier for citizens to pay for this service. A major goal of eDonalsonville is to provide superior customer service along with better connectivity. Since its inception, eDonalsonville has emphasized working with school officials and health care providers to provide access at little or no cost to disadvantaged students and persons recently affected by hurricane damage. It is remarkable that today, there are still unserved areas of a county, but that is the case. In order for the students in the unserved and underserved areas of Seminole County to gain access to the broadband services and level the playing field with students throughout the country, it is necessary to build and operate an LTE system.
eDonalsonville is the definition of a true rural broadband initiative. The system has two cell sites that provide service for the City of Donalsonville. The service, when fully implemented, will be available to the students both at school and home (provided their home is within the requested service area). The LTE service will also be available to the faculty and staff of the school system and the public. Te primary emphasis is to provide a resource for students who do not have access to reliable internet service at home. It will be a means for students, faculty, and other staff members to gain access to and complete homework assignments, receive information about school events, and get notifications during severe weather episodes. eDonalsonville will provide a mobile router device to the students along with a computing device, such as a tablet or laptop to connect to the mobile router. The mobile router connects to the LTE network and provides Wi-Fi access to multiple wireless devices, thus allowing other family members to obtain Internet access along with the student. As set forth above, for many in Seminole County it may the only available Internet access to their home. This will provide other citizens and businesses the ability to access services in the coverage area to utilize enhanced internet, telecommunication, and security networks.
The long-term value to the community is easily access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet access for all the reasons previously addressed. eDonalsonville also provides the opportunity to compete in economic development projects as internet access is an essential requirement for any business in today’s economy. Public safety operations are enhanced as police and firefighters through the enhanced mobile connectivity have access to real time information in emergency situations. In the coverage area, eDonalsonville offers unlimited data to residential and business customers, PC support and repair services, new phone service, security cameras for home and office, and internet to the downtown area in Donalsonville. As contracts with current telecommunication providers expire, the City can reduce its costs by $30,000-$40,000 per year by implementing the eDonalsonville network to provide the services.