A plan to bring high-speed internet to rural Georgia combines state funding and lower costs for broadband providers.
Connecting internet across the state is a priority for lawmakers who see it as a key component for recruiting jobs and residents to rural areas. About 16 percent of Georgians lack access to high-speed internet service.
The Georgia House of Representatives Rural Development Council unanimously endorsed several proposals Wednesday to improve internet availability. Lawmakers will consider enacting them during next year’s legislative session.
The council suggested creating a “reverse auction,” where the state would essentially auction off government funding to subsidize the cost of building internet lines in low-population areas. The internet service provider that needed the smallest subsidy to make internet construction financially feasible would win the funding.
Another recommendation calls for standardized fees charged by utilities for internet companies to use their poles. Currently, electric membership cooperatives in some rural areas charge pole attachment fees that are three times higher than what Georgia Power charges.
“It may take 10 years or 15 years ... to cover the whole state of Georgia,” said Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, the co-chairman of the council. “This gives us a mechanism by which we can start.”
It’s unclear how much state funding would be available for expanding internet service, but legislators say they’ll raise money through a telecommunications tax.
The telecommunications tax would be charged at the same rate to all providers of the same service, including satellite and cable internet providers. The tax rate could be up to 3.5 percent of gross receipts, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which advocates for county governments.
The telecommunication tax would replace existing franchise fees, which would be eliminated.