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State allows electric co-ops to sell broadband

Published by The Union Recorder on March 3rd, 2019

By Jill Nolin CNHI State Reporter  

ATLANTA – State lawmakers agreed to give electric cooperatives a shot at providing high-speed internet service in rural Georgia, signing off on a proposal Tuesday after three years of debate.

The state’s 41 electric membership corporations will be given the authority to provide broadband service, although it remains unclear how many of them will choose to do so. The bill now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp, who has said he backs the idea.

Lawmakers hope freeing the co-ops to sell broadband will increase the chances of connecting parts of rural Georgia, particularly in areas of south and middle Georgia where significant numbers of people lack access. About 1.6 million people across the state likely live without adequate broadband.

Other internet proposals, such as a call to tax video streaming and other digital services to help pay for broadband expansion, stalled earlier in the session.

This authorizes one of the main players in rural Georgia to provide a service that they are not legally authorized to provide now,” said Rep. Jay Powell, a Republican from Camilla.

Powell said there is “no silver bullet for rural broadband” but that the change is another step toward a solution.

Last year, lawmakers created a framework for a grant program that remains unfunded, and they also started a mapping project meant to pinpoint which parts of the state have the greatest need for the service.

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