Enter Your Address To Start
Areas where service is currently available.
Carl Vinson Institute of Government
2:21pm September 28, 2016
Last week, at the Currahee campus of the North Georgia Technical College in Toccoa, Georgia, I co-chaired the second meeting of the joint House-Senate Study Committee on Rural Broadband Deployment in Georgia. This was the second of six meetings authorized by the 2016 Georgia General Assembly, and tasked to study the issue of bringing broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of rural Georgia. The members of the study committee, five from the House and five from the Senate, including the co-chairs, are legislators who are strong advocates for rural broadband. We recognize the importance of broadband deployment in all areas of the state so that all Georgians can bring economic development to their respective communities, that the advances in telemedicine may be utilized throughout the state, and that children in all regions of Georgia may have the educational opportunities provided through internet research.
Good, reliable and affordable broadband service is available to nearly everyone in urban and most suburban areas of Georgia . There are different platforms over which it can be purchased, including wireless, which most of us use everyday without giving it any thought. It is a part of everyday life. However, there are rural areas of the state where that is hardly the situation. There are areas in this state, and most likely in every state, where reliable broadband is not available.
The issue is not new to me. As the Chairman of the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee in the Georgia House of Representatives, I have heard from Georgians, rural Georgians in particular, for a number of years about their lack of availability of broadband, and the negative impact that has upon their communities. It is an issue to which I have given a lot of thought, and in which I have invested a tremendous amount of research. It is with great hope that I, along with Co-Chair Senator Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, GA and the members of the study committee, hear suggestions from the citizens of rural Georgia, the various providers in the state, and other technical experts in broadband deployment, on how we can solve this critically important problem.
At first glance, it would seem that a basic argument that those in the unserved and underserved areas bring to us to us must be correct; that telecommunications providers, or "telephone companies" in those areas have a monopoly to provide telephone service, and therefore should be required to provide broadband service, which they see as just as an upgraded service such as private line over party line. There are several problems with that argument.
In the very first place, there are many telecommunications providers in Georgia, even those that are the predominant providers in a particular area, that are not regulated providers, and therefore, do not have monopoly status. But more importantly, the FCC has ruled that states cannot regulate broadband service. This negates the argument and the desire by so many in rural Georgia that the state simply force the various providers to deploy broadband service to every part of the state, and shift the cost to customers in the populous urban and suburban areas. That is not a good model. That is not an acceptable model.
Much of the testimony the study committee has heard encourages public-private cooperation and financing. There has been some success with this model, but it has been limited. In Toccoa, we heard testimony regarding the North Georgia Network, a broadband backbone that was built mostly with federal stimulus funds. For economic development in northeast Georgia, it has had success. Office parks, and even health facilities have been able to connect to the backbone, providing good, reliable broadband service.
However, the cost of extending the necessary facilities to neighborhoods and outlying business is so high that the North Georgia Network cannot expect that it would get an acceptable financial return on investment in the infrastructure required to deploy to those residences and businesses. That is the heart of the issue with the deployment of broadband in many rural parts of the state. It is costly, and the less densely populated the area - the less likely there are potential customers who will purchase the service - the more economically unfeasible it is to invest in the infrastructure.
As I previously stated, the FCC has ruled that states cannot regulate broadband service. That is a common sense ruling. However, it has also ruled that broadband service is a telecommunications service rather than an information service, as was its previous positions. With that ruling, I strongly disagree. The very reason that broadband is universally desired, whether in metro Atlanta or Jenkins County, GA, is because of the information that can be carried on it. Furthermore, it is the information (data, content) that uses the bandwidth and, therefore requires the highly costly equipment that must be provided by companies such as Verizon and AT&T to provide the broadband service. Google, Netflix and other streaming services eat up huge amounts of bandwidth with "information". If I could replace the members of the FCC with members of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, I would, and I can assure you that the citizens of Georgia and the U.S. would benefit from it.
There is no doubt that broadband service is needed by Georgians throughout the state. It is a service that, depending upon whether or not it is available, creates different classes of citizens in the state. That is not a cliche. It is a fact. For economic development, healthcare, conducting everyday business, education and so many facets of our lives, it has become a necessity. I have seen the faces and heard the testimony of Georgians from areas where broadband service is not yet available, and although I do not agree with all of their arguments about how it should be deployed, I agree that there is a basic unfairness that it is not deployed in their areas. We are all Georgians, living, working, serving and studying in this great commonwealth, in which the success of any area is interdependent with all other areas, where the success or lack of success of any individual affects the success of all of us.
I look forward to the next four meetings of the joint House-Senate Study Committee on Rural Broadband Deployment in Georgia. We will be meeting in various areas of the state. The study committee is comprised of some of the hardest working, most dedicated members of the General Assembly. I become more impressed by them with each meeting. I will continue to report on our progress. Information, in addition to social media will be posted at: www.donparsons.org
The members of the study committee are:
The five House members of the committee are:
The four Senate members of the committee, in addition to Senator Gooch, are:
See broadband maps of Georgia provided by Georgia Technology Authority at http://digital.georgia.gov/maps
6:11pm August 4, 2016
Take a look at the preface of our study resolution and let us know if you agree.
WHEREAS, high-speed broadband communications is to the 21st Century what highway construction and electrification were to the development of our rural communities in the 20th Century; and
WHEREAS, without up-to-date access to the digital world, Georgia's rural communities have a reduced quality of life and lack a key catalyst for economic growth; and
WHEREAS, many primarily rural communities throughout Georgia are at an economic and quality of life disadvantage because they lack access to high-speed broadband communications; and
WHEREAS, high-speed broadband communications is required in order for rural communities to compete for company locations and new jobs; and
WHEREAS, high-speed broadband removes the barriers to economic development, educational opportunities, quality health care, and a myriad other factors that are part of a thriving and sustainable economy; and
WHEREAS, rural economic development within all industries requires high-speed broadband communications as a core element of community infrastructure; and
WHEREAS, the overwhelming majority of Georgia's underserved households and businesses are in rural areas; and
WHEREAS, opportunities for partnerships to address this critical economic development need outside of traditional telecommunications solutions may exist.
Sound right? Please share your thoughts by taking the survey on this site.
P.O.Box 600, Dahlonega, GA 30533
You must be logged in to comment