Senate makes case for broadband

Tia Lynn Ivey News

Morgan County may be a step closer to securing high-speed broadband access. Last Friday, the Georgia Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill (SB) 402, which aims to expand broadband access to rural parts of Georgia.

Georgia Senator Burt Jones, who serves in Morgan County’s delegation, believes this bill, entitled “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere Act, will have “a positive impact on our local community.”

According to Jones, the state has taken up the issue of broadband expansion due to do the disadvantages rural Georgia faces without high-speed Internet. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about 16 percent of Georgians lack access to high-speed Internet service.

“Access to high-speed broadband is crucial for economic development as well as new technologies, and I am encouraged that SB 402 will start this process for residents in Senate District 25,” said Jones. “Aside from its recreational use, high-speed broadband allows growth in business, education and our growing use of telehealth which would positively affect the lives of all of our citizens. I was pleased to see this bill pass the Senate with unanimous and bipartisan support and look forward to seeing it progress from the House and to the Governor’s desk. This legislation becoming law will allow rural Georgia access to this much needed resource.”

County Manager Adam Mestres is pleased the new bill, hoping it will lead to stronger broadband access locally.

“Senate Bill 402 better known as the ‘Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act,’ gets communities like Morgan County one step closer to being able to offer fast and reliable internet to our residents,” said Mestres.  “As you know, fiber installation is a very costly venture and major carriers are not willing to bring the technology to our community because the total costs outweigh the profitability based on their specific formula. In part, this bill would allow an avenue for the major carriers to be able to receive grant funding to serve underserved areas in the State like Morgan County.  It is important to note that this bill alone will not bring broadband to Morgan County, but rather a means to allow carriers to be more interested in bringing to our area sometime in the future.”

SB 402 aims to pave the way for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to develop internet technologies along Georgia’s highways. According to the AJC, “The legislation also outlines a plan to develop rural broadband infrastructure and seeks funding to expand rural Internet through public and private grant programs.”

According to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, the bill, which is sponsored by Senator Steve Gooch, “partners rural communities with industry to build out a universal broadband network. For the first time, rural Georgia will be under a state-wide strategic broadband deployment plan that coordinates all Georgia’s resources and works with local leaders to implement local solutions.”

Cagle anticipates that the bill will pave the way for statewide Internet connectivity.

“Affordable, high-speed Internet connects all Georgians – regardless of where they live – to the most dynamic marketplaces. The ACE Act will connect our rural communities to an untapped universe of resources and opportunities, enabling them to achieve record levels of productivity,” said Lt. Governor Cagle. “Thanks to this forward-looking broadband infrastructure plan, our rural families, small businesses, students, and health care providers will compete for and win the most rewarding and advanced opportunities in the world.”

This bill is also supported by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

“This bill encourages the deployment of broadband and other communications technologies. Among many provisions, SB 402 authorizes the Georgia Department of Transportation to use or lease interstate and state road rights of way, and contract with public or private entities, for the deployment of broadband and other communications technologies,” read a statement from the ACCG. “It is intended that a portion of any profits (not federally restricted) here be used for DCA grants to promote broadband (defined as transmitting at least 25 megabits per second downstream and at least 3 megabits per second upstream) throughout the state.  Department of Community Affairs will work with the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) to designate and recognize cities and counties as “Broadband Ready Communities” if they remove barriers to broadband deployment.”

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle (ABC), “A committee in the Georgia House of Representatives approved a rural broadband bill Monday but removed a new tax on communications services opposed by the state Senate.”

This is a developing story that we will continue to follow as the bill makes its way to Governor Nathan Deal.

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