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Belton says broadband top priority

Tia Lynn Ivey News

Securing broadband service in rural Georgia has become a main priority among state leaders who are currently in the planning stages of new legislation to achieve that goal. 

According to State Representative Dave Belton, the State House Rural Development Council is considering a new tax structure and incentivizing policies to pave the way for expanded rural broadband service across the State of Georgia. 

“They are wanting to streamline and modernize antiquated tax and technology laws that stand in the way of expanding broadband in rural parts of Georgia,” said Belton.  “Sixteen percent of Georgians currently lack broadband service right now.”

According to Belton, state leaders are considering doing away with current technology taxes and replacing them with a new 4 percent state and local tax on all telecom and cable service, all direct broadcast and satellite services, and all digital goods and services. 

“They also want to incentivize EMCs to invest in broadband technology, which right now is against the law,” said Belton.  “They want to introduce legislation that will allow these electric cooperatives to get into the broadband business.”

Belton believes broadband access is key to providing a good education to Georgia’s students. 

“You simply cannot educate children in rural areas if they don’t have broadband in today’s world,” said Belton. “Everything is on the Internet now. Most homework is done on the Internet now. Education is the key to getting people out of poverty and if they can’t get broadband it is much harder to get a good education.”

Belton noted the government’s history of securing other emerging technologies as they became necessary to daily life. 

“We are getting to the point that we did with electricity back in the day,” explained Belton. “At some point the government had to step in and make sure everybody has access to it. So, that’s what we are doing with broadband now today, to make sure everybody has access to broadband.”

According to Belton, the proposed broadband policies will soon be debated in the State House of Representatives. Belton believes these proposals go much further than previous legislation passed to enhance broadband access statewide, such as “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act,” which the Georgia Senate unanimously passed back in March. The bill aimed 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.”

“That bill opened the door, but this would be a much more comprehensive strategy,” said Belton. 

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