ATLANTA — State energy regulators are rolling out the rules that will govern the deployment of broadband service to communities in rural Georgia.

The Georgia Public Service Commission is directing the state’s electric membership corporations (EMCs) to submit a “cost allocation manual” that must be approved by the commission before they can start providing internet service.

The General Assembly passed legislation last year authorizing EMCs to deliver broadband service to their customers. The PSC signed off Tuesday on the first EMC service application, voting to approve a cost allocation manual submitted by LaGrange-based Diverse Power.

The lack of internet connectivity in rural Georgia has long been a concern, but broadband service has become even more critical amid the coronavirus pandemic, with students and businesses more reliant upon online communications.

“This is a major issue,” said Commissioner Jason Shaw of Lakeland, who represents mostly rural South Georgia on the PSC. “Hopefully, what we’re doing here will move the needle on rural broadband, which I think is the No.-1 issue facing rural Georgians.”

EMCs must show in their cost allocation manuals that they will not raise energy prices to their customers to support developing broadband service, not charge customers who subscribe to broadband less for energy than their other customers and that they have the financial assets to provide broadband.

While last year’s legislation lets EMCs get into the broadband business, the state House of Representatives passed a bill last month aimed at giving them financial incentives to do so. The measure, which cleared the House just before the General Assembly suspended the 2020 session because of COVID-19, will move to the Senate when lawmakers reconvene under the Gold Dome.