Efforts to provide broadband in unserved areas of Georgia took another step forward following a Public Service Commission (PSC) decision which determines the fee paid by cable companies to attach wires and cable to electric membership cooperative (EMC) utility poles.
During an administrative session Tuesday, Dec. 15, 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 to attach to these poles along with enhancements 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.
“This decision by the PSC creates a pathway for cable companies, or any broadband provider, to actually expand their infrastructure and serve those unserved areas,” said Tim Martin, CEO of Carroll EMC. “It is important to note that pole attachment rates have historically been a business-to-business, negotiated agreement between a not-for-profit EMC and other privately-owned utilities. EMCs do not make profits from these attachments. They are a pass-thru cost based on real and substantial costs incurred by EMCs and their Members to own, maintain and accommodate third-party attachments on EMC poles.”
To monitor the deployment progress, the PSC decision also requires EMCs to report the total number of attachments in served and unserved areas to the Commission every two years.
Long before introducing the One Buck Deal, EMCs were pursuing solutions to help expand broadband to unserved homes and businesses. Systems in northern Georgia like Blue Ridge and Jasper, in southern areas like Sumter, or western areas like Heard and Carroll counties are developing EMC partnerships to expand broadband to rural Georgians. In June of 2020, Carroll EMC celebrated the announcement of a $20 million broadband project that is the result of an agreement between the cooperative and local broadband provider, SyncGlobal Telecom. The project, which was the result of a $12.5 million USDA ReConnect grant and matching funds provided by Carroll EMC and SyncGlobal Telecom, will serve more than 7,300 residents in previously unserved areas in West Georgia.