11:41 AM

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

Offering incentives to broadband providers to serve rural Georgia.

For many parts of Georgia, access to broadband service to connect homes, businesses and schools via the internet is limited. The state’s electric cooperatives – including Jackson EMC – want to partner with broadband providers to change that.

More than 507,000 Georgia homes and businesses lack access to reliable broadband service. Nearly 70% of those homes and businesses are in rural Georgia.

The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative made that determination this year after developing a statewide map illustrating areas where households and businesses don’t have access to high-speed internet.

This digital divide has economic consequences for communities across Georgia.“Electric cooperatives understand how the lack of reliable internet service in rural Georgia is affecting our communities,” said Chip Jakins, president/CEO of Jackson EMC. “We’re part of our communities.Our members have told us what broadband service could do to help their businesses thrive and keep their families connected to others, along with educational and healthcare resources. That’s why EMCs want to partner with broadband providers to serve and protect their members’ interests.”

During the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jackson EMC Foundation awarded grants to four local school systems to provide internet service via hot spot Wi-Fi systems placed on school buses.Those school buses were parked in neighborhoods where students needed internet the most — areas in Jackson EMC’s service area with inadequate internet service.

Electric co-ops serve the most rural and economically disadvantaged regions of Georgia.Using the infrastructure of EMCs — which provide electricity to more than 4 million Georgians — coops and broadband providers have an opportunity to be champions for rural members lacking reliable internet service.

But now electric cooperatives in Georgia have anew plan to partner with broadband providers to bridge the state’s digital divide.

How will it work?

Georgia’s electric cooperatives are rolling out the red carpet to broadband providers with new incentives to encourage them to expand in rural areas. In addition to proposing a fair, cost-based statewide formula for attaching equipment to our member-owned power poles, the EMCs are offering a two-pronged incentive approach:

A “One Buck Deal” for any broadband provider that will partner with EMCs in unserved areas. EMCs will lower their pole attachment rate to $1 per pole, per year, for five years for new attachments in unserved areas.

The “Georgia One Touch Make Ready” program will empower broadband providers to prepare EMC poles without delay for their equipment. This will make it cheaper and faster to extend broadband service to rural areas.

Who decides what happens?

The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) has been tasked by the General Assembly to decide the rates cable companies will pay to attach their equipment to EMC poles. Electric cooperatives are proposing one statewide formula for all pole attachment rental rates, plus generous incentives to encourage broadband providers to jumpstart their investments in rural communities.

How will this effect members?

Jackson EMC was founded in 1938 to bring electricity to rural homes and businesses in our community. As a not-for-profit cooperative, our members pay for electric service through their monthly bills. Jackson EMC pays millions of dollars each year to install and maintain poles throughout our 10-county distribution system. Today, many of our members remain in unserved areas for reliable internet service.

As a not-for-profit electric cooperative, Jackson EMC operates at cost. If cable companies do not pay their fair share of the cost to purchase, install and maintain the poles that they use, then Jackson EMC’s members will bear an unfair financial burden. The solution proposed by the state’s electric cooperatives protects members and provides real incentives and accountability for bringing broadband service to rural Georgia.

What can I do?

Learn more about the issue and how Georgia’s electric cooperatives are proposing a solution by visiting www.emcs4ruralbroadband.com. Follow Jackson EMC on social media for more information about the PSC’s decision.