08:01 AM

Perspective: Protecting Your Member Investment

As your president and CEO, it’s my job to protect your interests. I’m passionate about this cooperative and protecting what we’ve worked to achieve.

Recently, an issue has come up that could cost members millions of dollars each year. The issue is the rental rates we charge to communication companies, like those that offer broadband to attach their lines to our poles (commonly called pole attachment fees). As I recently shared in JEMCO News, this issue is due to be decided by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) on December 15. Cable and telecommunications companies have demanded that commissioners arbitrarily lower the pole attachment fees charged by Georgia’s electric cooperatives to subsidize their business. If they are successful, those dollars will essentially be taken out of your pocket and placed into the pockets of shareholders at those companies. And even worse, these companies cannot be held accountable to use the financial windfall to expand broadband here in Georgia.

Our argument is simple. As a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative, all of our assets (like poles and equipment) are paid for and owned by our hard-working members. We need to charge a fee for using those facilities that fairly recovers our members’ investment to purchase, build, install, maintain and replace those facilities. Maintaining this infrastructure is a huge expense for the cooperative and one you pay for each month with your electric bill.

When Tropical Storm Zeta blew through our service area a little more than a month ago, nearly 100 poles snapped and had to be replaced. Jackson EMC linemen worked around the clock to repair this infrastructure at great expense. The cable and communication companies tethered to our lines didn’t pay for any of it. This “maintenance” is included in their yearly pole attachment rental fee.

The storm knocked out power for more than 77,000 of our members, which we restored in three days. Some of you may have waited much longer to have your phone, cable or internet restored. And, now these companies want more from you, our hard-working members. Cable and telecommunications companies claim co-ops charge too much for rental fees, creating a barrier to the expansion of broadband in the state. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have presented a solution to the PSC that will protect our members financially, and offer a huge incentive to cable and telecommunications companies to expand broadband to unserved areas of Georgia.

We have proposed the “One Buck Deal,” which would reduce our pole attachment fees to only $1 per year for five years for new attachments in unserved areas. In fact, we welcome these companies to our poles because we know these services improve your life. This type of incentive ensures cable companies expand broadband to areas that need it most and provides them five years to recoup their investment.

For the past few months, we’ve talked to members about the decision facing the Georgia PSC. The elected members of the PSC will decide the fair rental rate to charge cable and communication companies attaching to the poles you pay for, through your monthly electric rates. 

If cable and telecom companies get the low, below real cost rates they seek, it will cost Jackson EMC and our member-owners more than $1.5 million every year. As a not-for-profit, the only way for us to replace those lost dollars is reduce our services or increase electric rates.

Rest assured: I will continue to fight to protect your interests as member-owners of this cooperative. 

You can learn more about the issue and how Georgia’s electric cooperatives are proposing a fair rate and a solution to incentivize broadband expansion by visiting emcs4ruralbroadband.com. Follow Jackson EMC on social media for more information about the PSC’s decision. 

Thank you for taking time to learn about the issues that impact the business of your cooperative. Your involvement is what makes a cooperative – a cooperative.