Georgia’s Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs) represent a vibrant, diverse group of more than 4 million residents and businesses, who, uniquely, are the owners of the 41 not-for-profit co-ops across the state.

The purpose of an EMC is to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy to our member-owners, but we are also committed to improving our communities and the quality of life for our members through economic development. But without access to high-speed internet, these rural communities cannot compete in today’s economy.

EMCs want to serve as a partner to expand broadband in unserved areas of Georgia, and we are taking action. Some EMCs have created affiliates and are providing broadband service to members. Most of the 41 electric co-ops in Georgia are exploring or have formed partnerships with broadband providers or have conducted studies to determine the feasibility and demand for connectivity in their service territory. But in many parts of the state, we cannot do it alone.

EMCs recognize that partnering with broadband companies is one of the fastest ways to tackle this issue. In fact, just this year, partnerships were announced by Carroll EMC, Colquitt EMC and Amicalola EMC that will expand access for thousands of Georgia households.

So, what is the problem?

The for-profit national cable companies claim that if the rates they pay to attach their cable to EMC utility poles are lowered, the savings will enable them to offer broadband service in rural areas that do not have internet service. But this has proven untrue both here in Georgia and in other states.

  • EMCs’ pole attachment rental rates represent cable’s fair share of the expense EMC member-owners have paid to acquire, install and maintain this infrastructure. If the rent is reduced for cable attachments to EMC poles across the state, EMCs will have to absorb the cost. This money must come from somewhere. The only “somewhere” is the pockets of more than 4 million EMC member-owners.
  • Lower fees have not led to rural broadband expansion in other states, not even in our own. Case in point – for decades Georgia’s largest investor-owned utility has been under the federally-mandated, customer-subsidized “FCC rate,” yet large portions of the company’s territory are still unserved by high-speed internet.

Pole attachment rates are not the problem. The real deterrents to rural broadband are: low population densities in rural areas, the low “take rate” resulting from consumers’ inability to afford cable’s high monthly fees, high capital investment for infrastructure, and the need to maintain profits to satisfy stockholders.

The case before the Public Service Commission (PSC)

During the 2020 Georgia General Assembly, lawmakers passed the “Georgia Broadband Opportunity Act” authorizing the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to set EMC pole attachment rental rates for cable attachments. The legislation requires the PSC to establish fees, terms, conditions, and specifications in any pole attachment agreement entered into by a cable company and an EMC on and after July 1, 2021. The bill requires the rate to be just, reasonable, nondiscriminatory, and commercially reasonable. The Georgia Broadband Opportunity Act was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp in August 2020.

The issue of EMC pole attachment rates now rests with the PSC, and the EMCs are glad for the conscientious, thorough and detailed review by the Commissioners and the professional staff. Georgia’s EMCs are sincere in our efforts to expand rural broadband through partnerships to bridge the digital divide. EMCs are pleased to do so while simultaneously protecting the financial interests of our member-owners against electric rates with unnecessary subsidies. We look forward to rolling out the red carpet for rural broadband expansion in Georgia, and we can’t wait to see who will join us.

Presented by Georgia’s Electric Membership Cooperatives which serve more than four million residents