Rural Georgians need access to high-speed internet to run their businesses and households; educate their children; obtain telehealth services; worship and stay in touch with friends and family. Without it, our citizens and entire communities are prevented from participating in today’s economy.
Why is broadband limited in rural areas?
It is not an easy problem for broadband providers to solve due to the lack of population density in these areas. The cable companies that typically provide these services have long avoided rural areas because the cost of running lines to homes miles apart and the low “take rates” resulting from consumers’ inability to afford cable’s high monthly fees will most likely not be profitable.
Cable companies say that if they could attach to EMC member-owned power poles across the entire state of Georgia at a much-reduced rate in the areas EMCs serve, they could offer broadband services to our least populated rural areas. The cable industry has repeatedly asked the Georgia General Assembly to lower EMC pole attachment rates to the artificially low and heavily subsidized “FCC rate.” They claim this will remove the barrier to rural broadband expansion. This is simply untrue.
Case in point: The FCC Rate already applies in some rural areas
For decades, the cable industry has attached its cables to the utility poles of investor-owned utilities at the FCC rate, which is substantially below the true costs to acquire, install and maintain these poles. This low rate was federally mandated by the FCC with the goal of expanding cable when it was just getting started in the 1970s.
And yet, even at this reduced rate, large portions of this territory still lacks reliable internet service after decades of the FCC rate.
Current Georgia EMCs’ pole attachment rental rates already subsidize the for-profit national cable companies and have for years. Despite this, our rural communities still lack high-speed internet access.
Clearly, pole attachment rental fees ARE NOT the barrier for cable companies to provide broadband service in unserved rural areas.
Setting the record straight: pole attachment rates and the impact on EMC members
The rates that EMCs charge broadband providers to attach their cable to our infrastructure are intended to be a fair recovery of the cost to acquire, install and maintain the power poles and right of way.
There is nothing unfair about EMCs renting the use of our members’ privately-owed assets – it is a common and fair nationwide business practice. What is unfair is placing the financial burden of cable subsidies on not-for-profit EMCs and ultimately, our member-owners.
The cable industry has pushed for years to lower EMC pole attachment rates to the heavily subsidized “FCC rate.” But these rates are not fair to EMC member-owners who pay for the cost of the pole infrastructure.
States like Delaware, Louisiana, Indiana, Washington, Maine and Arkansas, and the federal regulators at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) who set the pole attachment rate for cooperatives in portions of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia considered the same issue that is now before the Georgia PSC. The outcome? Each of these states and the TVA rejected the FCC rate that results in EMC member-owners subsidizing cable in favor of a cost allocation formula that treats consumers and EMC member-owners fairly.
If the rent is reduced for cable attachments to EMC poles, the not-for-profit EMCs will have to absorb the cost. This money has to come from somewhere. The only “somewhere” is the pocket of more than four million EMC member-consumers.
Looking at territories where the FCC rate has applied for decades, it is clear that lowering pole attachment rates won’t bring new broadband.
Millions of federal incentive dollars through USDA have been available to broadband providers to expand in rural Georgia, and those dollars remain untapped by the big cable companies.
For-profit national cable companies should not ask rural Georgia citizens to subsidize new business services, only to immediately sell them the new broadband services at market rate.
Georgia EMCs support rural broadband
Solving big problems is nothing new for EMCs – in fact, the very reason we exist was to provide electricity throughout rural Georgia, and it all began more than 80 years ago.
Today, EMCs work diligently to help attract companies to Georgia and ensure their EMC members prosper. Expanding access to reliable high-speed internet is critical and is one of the most important factors in the success of our rural economies.
That’s why throughout the state, EMCs have been actively working to help resolve this high-speed internet issue.
- Some electric co-ops have created affiliates, already built the necessary infrastructure and are providing broadband service to their members, including Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, Diverse Power and Habersham EMC.
- 20 EMCs are exploring or are in existing partnerships with broadband providers, and eight others are evaluating opportunities.
- Just this year, partnerships were announced by Carroll EMC, Colquitt EMC and Amicalola EMC to expand access for thousands of Georgia households. On the heels of this news, other EMCs are poised to announce their own partnership agreements in the near future.
Georgia’s electric cooperatives stand ready to roll out the red carpet for any broadband providers that are truly interested in partnering to make the long-held dream of high-speed internet a reality in rural Georgia.