Broadband service providers are working to close the digital divide in a state where more than 507,000 homes and businesses do not have access to reliable broadband internet. Nearly 70% of these homes and businesses are in rural locations. Luckily, there’s a real possibility of reliable broadband expansion for these rural Georgians in the upcoming months.
This Fall, the Georgia Public Service Commission will set the rate that broadband companies will be charged to attach to Electric Membership Cooperative utility poles. This rate, if based on the true incremental costs of what an attachment adds to an existing pole already sitting there in the right of way, will determine a critical cost factor at which broadband can be expanded into rural communities and will help close the digital divide. In addition to the rate, the terms & conditions placed on these attachments will also be decided and together this PSC decision on rates, terms and conditions will determine how attractive Georgia will be to these broadband investments and how fast some broadband providers will be able to expand in Georgia.
Service providers who intend to invest millions of dollars into rural communities if a fair rate is established offer service plans for ALL, including lower-income families at extremely reasonable prices. The affordable plans will be available to thousands of Georgians who currently lack broadband access. For those who qualify, plans are as low as $5/month with Charter and $9.95/month with Comcast, Mediacom, and Cox.
Not only will Georgians who desperately need broadband be offered access if fair rates are set, but many will have the opportunity to sign up for one of these lower-cost plans and be provided broadband internet at an affordable price. Time is of the essence as 2020 has shown us the importance of being able to carry educational opportunities from beyond school to the home, commerce from the office or retail shop to online platforms managed from the kitchen table and medicine from the health clinic to the living room via high-speed internet.
The Georgia General Assembly took a huge step towards affordable statewide broadband expansion when it passed the Georgia Broadband Opportunity Act (HB 244) and Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law in August 2020. It’s time to finish the job and establish a fair rate formula and streamlined processes for broadband service providers to attach to EMC owned utility poles and make broadband expansion a reality in Georgia.