Rural Georgia internet expansion law signed

Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill Monday that aims to bring high-speed internet service to more rural areas in Georgia.

The legislation, Senate Bill 402, starts the process for building internet lines in areas that lack access.

The state government will map where internet access is lacking and prioritize future government funding for those areas, according to SB 402. Subsidies would go to internet providers to build internet lines.

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While there’s no state money appropriated this year for the project, it could be funded through Georgia’s share of $600 million in federal money for rural broadband that was approved by Congress in March.

State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said the state government needs to help areas in “desperate need” of internet services.

“This is a great start, and the feds are going to help us,” said Gooch, the sponsor of the bill. “This is going to be a multi-year process. I don’t believe it’s a quick fix.”

The measure also allows for internet lines in public rights of way along internetstates and limited access roads. Those lines could then be leased to internet companies to provide service to outlying areas.

A separate bill to promote rural internet access didn’t pass the Georgia General Assembly this year. That legislation, Senate Bill 426, would have allowed electric membership cooperatives to offer internet service along with electricity.

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