Legislation aimed at getting broadband and 5G wireless technology into Georgia’s rural areas is awaiting the signature of Gov. Brian Kemp.
And local officials are breathing a sigh of relief with the passage of Senate Bill 66, which also contains provisions to give them some control over where the small cell fixtures are deployed.
It’s been a battle of several years, but Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis said the Georgia Municipal Association represented the cities’ interests well.
“People have been saying the state and federal governments should do things to encourage telecommunications companies to cover rural communities that don’t have the large customer base you see in urban areas,” Davis said. “But, in exchange, the companies wanted free rein.”
GMA worked during the past Georgia General Assembly session to craft a compromise with telecom companies. Provisions in the final bill protect historic districts and residential areas, provide incentives for co-locating an antenna on an existing structure, and require that local aesthetic and decorative pole standards be met.
Davis said the nod to home rule was an overarching theme during the GMA District 1 listening tour at the Rockmart Municipal Complex last week. City representatives from a 15-county area gathered Wednesday to start looking at priorities for next year.
“Surprisingly, the conversation at each of the tables focused on pre-emption, autonomy, local control, unfunded mandates,” Davis said. “It seems like every session the Legislature wants to come up with more rules for us.”
What’s new in the past few years is a stronger working relationship between GMA and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, attended the listening session in Rockmart along with Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville.
She said the wireless legislation stalled several times. She and Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, both server on the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.
“We’ve been working on the small cells and increasing broadband capabilities around the state. Georgia Power and other providers are very interested, but it took a couple of years for them to come together,” Dempsey said. “It seemed like someone was always opposing someone.”
This year, Dempsey said, GMA and ACCG put out a strong shared priority list. The former Rome city commissioner called the alliance “historic.”
“I think they’ve realized that if they can come to the Legislature with a unified voice, we can get more things done (for them),” Dempsey said.
Davis said the roundtable discussions in Rockmart ran the gamut from economic development and public safety to natural resources and transportation.
She and Rome Commissioner Evie McNiece sit on the GMA Legislative Policy Council. They’ll meet in May to go over the priority lists collected by the organization’s advocacy teams on this listening tour.
“Our district has so many really small towns. (Rome’s) the biggest,” Davis said. “It’s so important to have a seat at the table, to bring diverse perspectives to our legislators that may be different from big cities like Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah.”