Towns push back as Georgia tries to crush municipal broadband
ATLANTA (AP) — Representatives of rural cities and counties across Georgia told a panel of state senators on Thursday that they had to create the broadband networks private providers refused to bring to their communities.
Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers is sponsoring legislation that he said will make public broadband networks play by the same rules as private service providers. Senators on the Regulated Industry and Utilities Committee heard nearly an hour of testimony from both supporters and critics of the bill.
Senate Bill 313 would prevent public broadband providers from paying for communication networks with tax or government funds and from offering their services at below-cost prices. It would also require local governments to hold hearings and a special election to become a public provider.
Representatives from the major telecommunications networks said the bill encourages competitive fairness.
Leaders from cities including Elberton, Hogansville, Thomasville, Monroe and Toccoa lined up to tell senators that broadband is necessary infrastructure for the 21st century economic development they hope to attract — and that they are doing what they must to keep their communities competitive.
"We cannot wait for the private sector to ride to our rescue," said Tim Martin, executive director of the Toccoa-Stephens County Development Authority.
Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly said the city's broadband network supports major employers there.
"If we have to cut them off, there's no telling what that's going to do to our local economy," he warned.
Rogers said many the critics' concerns were not addressed in the legislation and unfairly bashed the private sector, which is making progress on broadband expansion in Georgia.
"Have they gotten to every corner of the state? No," Rogers said. "If you can explain to the voters why you should continue, then none of this matters."