This article appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Smartphones are a ubiquitous device across Georgia. Coupled with other technological advancements such as smart cars, driverless technology and the “Internet of Things” in which even regular household appliances will be connected to the Internet, telecoms have a lot of investments to make in the state to meet the growing technological demands. With the inevitability of a greater societal reliance on broadband Internet, telecom companies are stepping up advocacy activities in the state and pushing for legislative initiatives in 2017.
During the summer and fall, the General Assembly has been hearing testimony from various stakeholders across the state as part of the Joint Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for all Georgians. As part of this process, the telecoms are advocating for the following policies, which could negatively impact municipal revenue and authority to manage municipal right-of-ways:
- Streamlined and uniform permitting process for telecommunications, cable and broadband infrastructure located in the public right-of-way
- Uniform right-of-way policies
- Limitation on local permitting fees
- Limitation of local regulation of small cell equipment
- Limitation on local pole attachment fees
- Elimination of sales tax, both state and local, on equipment for broadband deployment
“To help all of Georgia reach its full potential and to encourage job creation, it is imperative we find a way to meet the needs of job creators, industries, and manufacturing for today’s technology driven world,” said Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson, testifying at a recent meeting of the study committee. “We need to exert leverage on private providers to help meet these needs in rural Georgia.”
Among Hanson’s ideas were providing incentives tax credits to encourage the expansion of high speed, high quality service in rural areas, treating fiber installation the same way governments treat electric, road, water and sewer projects by making broadband infrastructure deployment mandatory for developments of certain size and threshold. He also suggested a state “fiber ring” around rural communities that private companies could then access as a backbone to provide the last mile of fiber to the home and business, using transportation projects as an opportunity to install fiber as part of the project, or give grants to development authorities and cities and counties for joint projects with private companies.
These ideas, Hanson suggested, “could make investment more economical in rural or underserved areas.”
GMA is recommending that instead of a sales tax exemption which would apply statewide, a state fund should be created to offset the cost of deploying infrastructure in the underserved areas. However, the industry has rejected any proposal that would replace any sales tax exemption proposal or provide access to state funds to solely to deploy equipment in the underserved areas of the state. GMA remains engaged in this process and will work with the study committee members to recommend that local control of rights-of-way and local permitting processes are not diminished. The study committee report is expected to be finalized prior to the convening of the 2017 session.