(December 15, 2020)--Efforts to provide broadband in unserved areas of Georgia took another step forward today following a Public Service Commission (PSC) decision which determines the fee paid by cable companies to attach wires and cables to electric membership cooperative (EMC) utility poles.
In today’s administrative session, the Commission unanimously approved a motion requiring EMCs to lower the pole attachment rate for new attachments in areas of the state that are unserved by broadband to $1, per pole, per year, for six years. This financial incentive, called the One Buck Deal, will be given to any qualified broadband provider that will agree to deliver new high-speed internet service in an area that is determined to be “unserved” by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Broadband Initiative Maps.
The Commission also established a cost-based pole attachment rate in areas of the state that already have broadband service and for existing attachments in unserved areas. The Commission voted to support reasonable terms and conditions with an enhancement to require faster repair of safety violations. Together these measures will spur the expansion of broadband into rural areas through economic efficiency, certainty, and increased safety and reliability of attachments on EMC poles.
“Georgia’s EMCs want to thank Commissioners Eaton, Echols, McDonald, Pridemore and Shaw and the PSC staff for their relentless hard work on this important issue,” says Georgia EMC President/CEO Dennis Chastain. “With today’s vote, the Georgia PSC is giving broadband providers access to utility infrastructure at a cost of next-to-nothing, in the locations where Georgia needs broadband the most. The Commission also voted today to protect EMC members from unnecessary energy rate hikes.”
In recent months, PSC commissioners studied the complexities of pole attachment safety, engineering and construction in hard-to-reach and remote areas like the North Georgia mountains and rural South Georgia counties.
“The PSC decision today is vital as EMCs pursue and evaluate broadband partnerships,” Chastain explains. “With today’s decision, EMCs are poised and ready to partner with broadband providers across the state to help them expand into our rural service territories.”
To monitor the deployment progress, the PSC decision today also requires EMCs to report the total number of attachments in served and unserved areas to the Commission every two years. The EMCs originally proposed the One Buck Deal as a five-year financial incentive for internet providers to locate in rural Georgia. Today the PSC voted to extend the One Buck Deal as a six-year incentive. The $1 per pole, per year rate will apply to any qualified broadband provider that will agree to deliver new high-speed internet service, or 25/3 Mbps service, in unserved EMC areas. Under the One Buck Deal, the PSC has required EMCs to forego recovering a fair share of the costs to own and maintain utility poles. The introductory rate of one dollar, per pole, per year, applies to broadband providers that are not already attached to EMC poles. The One Buck Deal insures that investments made by rural Georgians in broadband stay in their communities.
Long before introducing the One Buck Deal, EMCs were aggressively pursuing solutions to help expand broadband to unserved homes and businesses. Most recently, Amicalola EMC and Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC) made a joint announcement on a new partnership to provide greater access to high-speed internet in their shared North Georgia service areas that include portions of Cherokee, Dawson, Lumpkin and Pickens counties. Amicalola EMC will invest $6.5-to-$7 million to add more than 250 miles of high-speed connectivity to ETC’s network, providing broadband access to approximately 6,000 customers.
In August, Colquitt EMC, which serves 45,000 members over seven counties in South-central Georgia, announced a partnership with Windstream. The companies will share responsibility for expanding the Kinetic fiber optic broadband network that will reach some of Georgia’s most rural areas over the next several years. As the network is expanded, Colquitt EMC members will have access to Windstream’s premium Kinetic broadband service with internet speeds up to 1 Gig.
In June, Carroll EMC, which serves approximately 50,000 members in West Georgia, celebrated the announcement of a $20 million broadband project that is the result of a partnership between the EMC and local broadband provider, SyncGlobal. The project, which was the result of a $12.5 million USDA ReConnect grant and matching funds provided by Carroll EMC and SyncGlobal, will serve over 7,300 residents in previously unserved areas.
Some EMCs in Georgia like Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, Cobb EMC, Diverse Power, and Habersham EMC have created broadband affiliates to provide retail broadband services to their members. Many other EMCs are exploring opportunities or have already formed partnerships with broadband providers that will be announced soon.