A legislative committee studying broadband access in Georgia has issued its report to the legislature, recommending tax credits and reworking regulations that stymie growth.
The Committee on High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians held a series of meetings across the state in 2016 to determine broadband availability and need.
The lawmakers on that committee held a final meeting at the state Capitol in late December to approve the report they have since sent to the full legislature that’s intended as a road map for possible legislative action in 2017.
“There are so many different pieces to this puzzle … it’s going to take so many different people working together,” state Rep. Susan Holmes, R-Monticello, told The Macon Telegraph after that last meeting.
The committee recommended lawmakers look to eliminate taxes on telecom equipment purchases to deploy in rural areas.
The panel also suggested some other steps to promote private investment, including providing tax credits for individuals or businesses that invest in rural broadband infrastructure, as well as offering tax incentives for providers deploying broadband to recruit and hire the local labor force.
The committee also wants to untangle a regulatory mess by developing a uniform, streamlined permitting process at the local level and requiring the Georgia Department of Transportation to open the right-of-way for conduits and fiber on rural roads.
More of the committee’s recommendations include:
- Establish broadband funding programs at state agencies, including the Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
- Explore allowing the Department of Transportation and other state agencies to lease excess fiber to providers.
- Explore how public-private partnerships can help fuel the growth of rural broadband. The committee also suggests crafting incentives to encourage large and small telecom companies to work together and eliminate duplicative efforts.
- Have Georgia participate in the federal FirstNet program, which was created in response to the crippling of the nation’s wireless network after the terror attacks on 9/11, making it difficult for first responders to communicate with one another. Congress set aside $7 billion to establish, operate and maintain FirstNet so responders will have their own radio spectrum. The state would pay a user fee (the amount is undetermined) to participate.
- Encourage rural education agencies eligible for federal E-rate funds designed to improve high-speed internet access in schools to apply for the money, to improve educational infrastructure.