By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)
Although we addressed many important issues and debated a wide range of topics during the 2018 session, there is one issue that was and remains my priority – broadband access expansion for all Georgians. Throughout the session I updated you on the status of the three pieces of legislation I sponsored to address this very important issue. This legislation has been a long time in the making and I want to commend everyone who came together to work tirelessly while the bills made their way through the legislative process. Of the three pieces of legislation, Senate Bills 232, 402 and 426, I am proud to say that the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act”, or SB 402, received final passage and on Monday, May 7, 2018, Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 402 into law making the legislation effective on the same day setting up the framework for universal broadband access in Georgia.
Under this legislation, the definition of broadband was changed. The level of service for an internet provider receiving grant funds as a result of SB 402 must be increased to a minimum data transmission speed of 25 megabits, up from the current speed of 10 megabits.
Under SB 402, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), the Georgia Technology Alliance (GTA) and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) will work together to expand fiber optic cabling to last-mile destinations by using existing infrastructure. First, GDOT, in consultation with GTA, will establish a long-term policy on the proper use of rights-of-way of interstates for the establishment, development and maintenance of broadband deployment throughout the state. Additionally, broadband service providers seeking to deploy broadband services by utilizing public rights of way would work with GTA and local governments to develop a comprehensive plan. In the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, $1.1 million of existing funds will be utilized by GTA for implementing SB 402.
This legislation also directs DCA to publish a map by January 1, 2019, showing which parts of Georgia are “unserved” by broadband service providers. DCA will work with the Federal Communications Commission, local governments, broadband service providers and other key stakeholders to collect data needed to publish an accurate map. Along with producing this map, DCA will oversee the application process and administration of grants for local communities that successfully designate themselves as a “Broadband Ready Community.” Local communities which aim to receive this designation from DCA must establish a comprehensive plan that includes the promotion of availability and delivery of broadband services. Additionally, the local community must pass an ordinance for reviewing applications and issuing broadband-related permits which includes certain criteria. Once a community is designated as a “Broadband Ready Community,” they will then receive grants which will streamline the process for them to achieve broadband access expansion. It is important to note that in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, $334,900 was appropriated to DCA for the implementation and administration of this new community designation. These are just a few of the highlights of what SB 402 would do to achieve greater connectivity throughout the state.
Although Senate Bills 232 and 426 did not receive final passage, work on both pieces of legislation is not over. SB 232, the “Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act,” would have increased competition and offered broadband services to rural areas, without incurring additional costs on the taxpayer, by allowing 42 Electric Membership Cooperatives to provide internet services and broadband to their customers. SB 426, the “Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development (BILD) Act”, would have reduced unnecessary regulations and costs and streamlined the deployment of wireless broadband by addressing how local governments regulate the utility companies’ use of the right of way for locating wireless antennas and structures.
While I am happy that SB 402 passed and that we made progress with SBs 232 and 426, I know that broadband access expansion is not an issue we can fix overnight, with one piece of legislation or even during one session. It will take more work and dedication to ensure that all Georgians have access to fast, reliable internet.
If you have any questions about anything related to broadband access expansion or other legislation passed this session, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will continue to update you over the course of the next few weeks on the status of bills on the governor’s desk. Remember, I am always here to help if I can be of service in any way.