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More Georgia Electric Co-Ops might offer Internet Service

State Sen. Steve Gooch is working to make Internet Service available in North Georgia

~ By Elaine Owen, Editor ~

State lawmakers continue their push to expand broadband in rural Georgia this year. One way is to explicitly allow electric membership co-ops (EMCs) to provide not just electricity but also internet service.
In the North Georgia region State Sen. Steve Gooch said the first question real estate agents hear these days is often not about where the best school districts are, but it’s more about making sure there’s good internet service.
Gooch said areas that don’t offer reliable internet access are being left behind and that’s why he wants to authorize Georgia’s 41 EMCs to begin offering broadband. He prefiled Senate Bill 2, ahead of the official start of the 2019 Georgia legislative session.
This bill is titled “Public utilities and public transportation; electric membership corporations and their affiliates; authorize; broadband services; provide (PF)”
PF: A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Title 46 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to public utilities and public transportation, so as to specifically authorize electric membership corporations and their affiliates to provide broadband services; to provide for definitions; to authorize certain financing and partnerships for the provision of broadband services; to prohibit cross-subsidization between the provision of broadband services and an electric membership corporation’s natural gas activities or electricity services activities; to provide for related matters; to provide for an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
If passed, SB2 would make it easier for EMCs to partner with internet companies to provide broadband service to members.
Jeremy Nelms, general manager of the Blue Ridge EMC, said, “I’m not going to say that this is a silver bullet to fix the rural broadband issue. But EMCs can certainly be a facilitator to address this issue, just as we did in the 1930s and ‘40s with rural electrification.”
Georgia EMC is the group that represents the state’s electric co-ops. President Bill Verner said, “There’s a reason why rural Georgia has a digital divide. And that’s because the numbers aren’t there for for-profit companies to make a profit.” Verner said that’s where nonprofit EMCs can step in to fill the gap.
Gooch said he also plans to introduce a bill allowing for small telephone companies to offer broadband services.

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