By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
During the 2017 session of the Georgia General Assembly, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 389, creating the House Rural Development Council. The council was tasked to meet on a regular basis across the state to listen to citizens, businesses, and organizations about what challenges rural Georgia faces, and what the General Assembly can do to address the problems identified.
In a press release announcing the membership of the council, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said, “Georgia is a growing and prosperous state, and we are thankful for that. But that prosperity isn’t being felt in every community across Georgia. Some of our rural areas are still struggling, and we must do everything we can to help private businesses grow jobs in every corner of our state.”
The Council was tasked to “meet on a regular basis at different locations within the state, particularly in rural areas of Georgia, to interact with and hear from local government officials, educational leaders, health care providers, business leaders, civic groups, and all other citizens who desire to offer input, so as to enable the council to exercise fully and effectively its powers, perform its duties, and accomplish the objectives and purposes of this resolution.”
The Council is composed of 15 members appointed by the Speaker. Some of the those members were in Blue Ridge earlier this month to get input from government officials and others interested in developing rural Georgia. One of the the main topics was broadband internet service.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about utility poles. But the people shaping the future do. In the next few years, much of what we envision–from digital education to telemedicine to autonomous vehicles–will require internet service that is faster, more reliable and more accessible everywhere. That future may not be as distant as some people think. To get there will require agreement about how to attach futuristic antennas to the same kind of wooden poles first used 200 years ago.
Telecoms are excited about the impending roll-out of 5G (fifth-generation) wireless technology. The jump from the current 4G technology is said to be dramatic: Speeds could be anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster, with near-instantaneous response time between networks and connected devices.
What’s the difference? Bob Davis, vice president of government relations for Verizon, explained how the new technology would work in a presentation to legislators who met in Blue Ridge. He used driverless cars as the example. “If you use the current, 4G technology to try to stop a car…it would take about 10 seconds,” he said. “So obviously that would not work. With the 5G, high-band spectrum, it’s milliseconds.”
That’s truly the difference between life and death.
Davis was speaking at a meeting of the House Rural Development Council who met in Blue Ridge May 16. Two days earlier, at a Metro Atlanta Chamber event, industry representatives also talked about the importance of 5G to Georgia’s largest city. When one idea resonates in both rural and urban Georgia, it’s worth noting–and people should pay attention.
What brought those two crowds together, though, wasn’t just the technology itself. It was the challenge of deploying it across a state with 159 different counties, even more cities, and all their various approaches to regulating and permitting.
It’s important to remember that 5G technology will require lots of small antennas, known as small cells. They may be attached to buildings in some cases, but more often they’ll be perched atop utility poles, lampposts, traffic signals, all sorts of things that are elevated–and, the vast majority of time, owned by someone other than the company with the antenna.
Most of the time it will be a pole or post owned by a city, a county or a power company (Georgia Power or an electric membership corporation, like Tri-State Electric in Fannin County) and standing in a public right-of-way managed by any of those or, in some cases, the State Department of Transportation.
The various parties have spent months and months talking to one another. As of today, though, they have not settled on a standard way of handling permit requests for these small cells.
The scope of this work is enormous. At least initially, small cells will need to be within 250 to 750 feet of each other, since one trade-off for the faster speeds and lower latency is shorter range. That, plus the need to be everywhere at the same time, means some regulatory streamlining is in order. Nineteen states, including Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee, have passed bills to provide that streamlining as well as capping the fees pole owners can charge for access. They are better-positioned than Georgia to garner early investment in this technology.
Cost is a significant factor in where a company such as Verizon spends its limited capital. “This is a competitive industry,” Davis told legislators.
Georgia legislators seem reluctant to intervene in the negotiations unless they absolutely must. It shouldn’t come to that. Local communities and utilities that own these poles would benefit from having 5G every bit as much as the telecoms would from providing it. The House Rural Development Council and local leaders hope they can work this out on their own.