City officials from Elberton, Thomasville and Lagrange told legislators at a Georgia House Energy, Utility and Telecommunications subcommittee hearing that HB 282 could impede economic development in rural Georgia. HB 282 would limit the ability of Georgia cities to deploy or expand broadband service in their communities.
“Let’s talk about economic development,” said Elberton Mayor Larry Guest. “Georgia should be promoting a pro-business, inclusive approach to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas of the state,” he said. “Competition ensures market-based pricing and faster delivery of state-of-the-art services. We have to do everything we can to attract jobs. If we don’t do that, business will not select rural Georgia. High speed access is essential to us.”
The bill’s author Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming) argued that the bill seeks to provide a level playing field and limit expanding the role of government. “We have to draw the line somewhere,” he said.
However, Elberton City Manager Lanier Dunn said Elberton started its Internet services because the private sector refused to do so. He added that many of the private telecommunications companies “get all kinds of federal subsidies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Although Rep. Hamilton repeatedly emphasized that a substitute version of HB 282 would exempt the 52 cities that provide electric services, including Elberton, LaGrange and Thomasville, city officials said the exemption is beside the point.
“Other Georgia cities deserve the right to do what Elberton did, and their residents deserve the services Cumming has,” said Guest. “We are not second class citizens because we decided to live in rural Georgia.”
Lanier said cities often respond to their constituents’ needs with capital investments, including paying for roads and water/sewer improvements. “If the city doesn’t have an electric system, this bill would keep it from working with a company for their telecom needs,” he said.
“The concern that I have is the underserved areas around us,” said Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly. He noted that the bill prohibits cities from investing in, or expanding current broadband services, if any commercial carrier offers 3.0 Mbps where the city wants to offer that service.
“Three megabits is not adequate to do functions in a modern telecommunications world,” Beverly said. Beverly explained that Thomasville is preparing for its customers to use 20 megabits of bandwidth per second. “We are expecting the demand on bandwidth to double in the next five years and this bill does not address that,” he said. “There is going to be bandwidth inflation. Please consider the rest of rural Georgia.”
A Dawsonville resident said he is currently underserved by a private internet provider.
“I am fighting to get the service I am paying for,” he said, adding that the company took federal stimulus money—$181.3 million according to the company’s 10K filed with the FCC—to invest in their infrastructure but he has not benefitted from any so-called investment.
“I want competition,” he said. “If my city wants to give [the private sector] some competition, I am worried that this bill would prevent my city from doing that.”
LaGrange City Manager Tom Hall said the bill has the effect of picking winners and losers, “not only communities but whether businesses will have choices. You are throwing up barriers to communities to not be able to make choices in the best interest of their community and that is not necessarily wise public policy.”