Georgia General Assembly

Local lawmakers are gearing up for the 2019 Georgia General Assembly and broadband expansion is expected to be one of the major initiatives.

Jan. 14 is the start of a new two-year session and the first under governor-elect Brian Kemp.

State Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, sits on the House Rural Development Council, which is slated to spend three days this week focusing on connectivity. The meeting starts Tuesday in Dahlonega.

Getting high-speed internet into less-populated areas remains a priority for Lumsden, who has called it a necessity for sustainable economic development. The cost has been a deterrent for most companies. However, SB 240 — Achieving Connectivity Everywhere — which passed earlier this year, includes incentives.

The council is slated to get an update on implementing the ACE bill. Specifics were discussed at a gathering last week by representatives of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association, cable companies, telecommunications and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Lumsden has said the best bet for rural service is to continue building on extensions into the far reaches of the state.

One sticking point has been access to rights of way, which are controlled by the local jurisdictions. Under the ACE legislation, the Georgia Department of Transportation will make state rights of way available, including along the interstates.

Fees for the use of state property would be funneled to DCA and the Georgia Technology Authority for distribution as grants to promote broadband.

Meanwhile, DCA is drawing up a map of underserved communities, regulations and model ordinances that local governments can adopt to be designated a Broadband Ready Community. They’ll be promoted as such by the Georgia Department of Economic Development and given priority in a new deployment program. DCA is required to have the program up and running before July 1.

Qualified providers, including local governments will be able to compete for funding to extend service into outlying census tracts. Providers will be barred from charging higher prices to users in those areas and will have to reach at least 90 percent of the population in the tract.

The House Rural Development Council also is scheduled to hear from a number of experts on other potential funding sources. Thursday will be devoted to finalizing the group’s report with recommendations for legislative action in the upcoming session.