Georgia’s high-speed internet deserts in the rural areas of the state appear closer to getting help.
State House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism held a hearing Monday on two bills that would authorize telephone companies and Electric Membership Cooperatives to provide broadband.
From hospitals to classrooms to businesses, high-speed internet is considered critical to the economic health of Georgia.
"Broadband service is as vital as water,” said State Rep. Susan Holmes during the hearing quoting one of her constituents. "This is the year to do it (pass broadband legislation). We’ve waited long enough.”
One of the bill’s sponsors, State Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville), told the committee both pieces of legislation address consumer concerns about having the utility companies offer the service, including prohibiting the intermingling of broadband bills with a customer’s electric, gas or phone bills.
The bills also prohibit providers from cutting off the electricity or gas to a customer who has not paid a broadband bill.
“EMCs, in some area provide gas and electricity, too,” Houston said. “We did not want just because you didn’t pay your broadband bill… we didn’t want electricity and gas to be cut off."
If Georgia enacts the legislation, the state will have the ability to apply for some of the $600 million in federal loans and grants for broadband infrastructure in rural areas through the Farm Bill.
Both bills now move to the House Rules Committee.