The Georgia Public Service Commission on Tuesday, December 15 agreed with the state's electric membership cooperatives's plan to lure private investment in broadband infrastructure, approving the plan they proposed earlier in the fall. It included simplified one-touch make ready rules, a one dollar per pole, per year, for six years rate of lease, and a host of other provisions.
As the nation’s eyes are riveted on the political divide in Georgia and the implications it has for the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, many state residents are also keeping an eye on the digital divide in the Peach State with an aim to expand broadband service to rural residents.
Georgia’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) are promoting a new “Georgia Solution” to bring more broadband connectivity to the state’s rural regions.
That’s what the statewide trade association representing Georgia’s 41 electric cooperatives is calling its unique “roll out the red carpet” initiative as they hope to lure private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to expand broadband service now that state lawmakers passed the Georgia Broadband Opportunity Act during the 2020 Georgia General Assembly.
The law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp in August, authorizes the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to set “rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments between communications service providers and electric membership corporations and their broadband affiliates.”
Filed on October 23 with the state’s PSC to consider for approval, the “Georgia Solution,” aims to entice private ISPs with two “generous and unprecedented offers” -- the “One Buck Deal” and the “Georgia One-Touch-Make-Ready Program.”
Two-Part “Georgia Solution”
The “One Buck Deal” is a financial incentive in which the EMCs will “forego recovering a fair share of their costs to own and maintain … EMC utility poles, and instead charge these broadband providers just one dollar, per pole, per year to attach their wires and cables to the pole.” The offer would be available to any qualified broadband providers that will deliver new high-speed Internet service in unserved EMC regions, which covers 73% of the state’s land area, providing electricity to 4.4 million residents, or nearly half of Georgia’s population.
That one dollar, per pole, per year “introductory rate” would last for five...Read more
All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted.
The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:
The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500.
The Deep South Hit Hardest
As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page).
Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).
At this point the decision seems only to affect those subscribing to the company’s ADSL service. Those subscribing to ADSL2 and asymmetric VDSL won’...Read more
Over the summer, Windstream and Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation announced that the two entities will work together to expand fiber optic Internet access throughout the electric co-op’s service territory in rural south Georgia. Windstream, the fifth largest telephone company in the nation, will maintain ownership of the newly deployed network and use it to offer its Kinetic broadband services to residents and businesses, while Colquitt, which has more than 45,000 members, will take advantage of the fiber connectivity to improve the management of its electric grid.
The announcement came one year after Georgia lawmakers clarified that electric cooperatives in the state are able to invest in broadband infrastructure to serve their members and established guidelines for co-ops that want to get into the business.
Working Out the Details
According to Telecompetitor, the project will expand Fiber-to-the-Home connectivity and gigabit speeds to Colquitt members who currently have access to Windstream’s much slower DSL services.
Windstream plans to use Colquitt’s labor force and its Rights-of-Way and electric poles to help deploy the network, but the telephone company will own the actual fiber optic lines. Colquitt will receive an indefeasible right of use (IRU) for some of the fiber capacity for internal uses and smart grid applications.
The two companies have not released details on the construction plan or locations yet.
Partnership Pros and Cons
Typically, electric co-ops that partner with a broadband provider to offer connectivity to their members choose to work with a nearby telephone co-op or a locally-owned company, though many electric co-ops do decide to provide the services themselves. For example, Minnesota-based CTC has...Read more
As Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GDBI) Director Deanna Perry promised last September, a state intra-agency task force has completed its mapping project of broadband Internet access in the Goober State. It offers a far more detailed look at who does and does not have Internet access — right down to individual homes and businesses.
Broadband Access Reality Check
The interactive map shows what we’ve known for a long time: that the FCC’s data on nationwide coverage dramatically overstates baseline broadband availability (defined as a connection capable of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mpbs)). This is especially true in rural areas. Georgia’s data, in particular, shows that of the more than 507,000 homes and businesses in the state lacking any access options, nearly 70% of these locations are in rural parts of the state. The reason for this discrepancy is because the GDBI map is based on location-specific data (individual houses and businesses), while the FCC map considers a whole census block served if just one location in that block is served.
Users can dive into the GBDI Unserved Georgia Map and type in an address or city to see how many locations within each census block are unserved, or check out the FCC vs GBDI comparison map to see the difference in reported coverage. In the GIF below, the GDBI data is on the left, while the FCC's claimed coverage is on the right.
Equally interestingly, the map shows many areas where even just a handful of miles outside of mid-size metro areas like Athens or Macon, there are...Read more
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mapping has long been criticized for inaccuracies. Now, state and local initiatives are taking up the challenge of poor broadband mapping and developing ways to create their own maps that better reflect the reality of broadband coverage in their communities. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) recently showcased several county-level maps they’ve developed that provide the detail that FCC maps lack.
Therein the Problem Lies
As experts have noted, FCC data on which maps are based are inadequate because their foundation is based on census blocks. If one premise in a census block can be served by an Internet access provider, that provider will report on the Form 477 that the entire census block is served. In rural areas where census blocks can be very large tracts of land, this can leave many premises indicated as served but actually unserved.
We developed this graphic to illustrate the issue:
When local communities apply for funding that’s based on the need to connect unserved and underserved premises, they can be disqualified due to incorrect mapping data. For local leaders who need to get their communities connected and expect to apply for grants and loans, FCC mapping can derail their funding and delay or end a proposed project.
This past August, the FCC announced that they will finally take steps to improve mapping and began seeking comments on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Read the announcement [PDF].
Fixing the Maps
In Georgia, the GBDI sought to obtain information on a more granular level to obtain an accurate representation of where residents and businesses need to be connected and where they lack the kind of connectivity they need.
According to GBDI Director Deanna Perry, staff developed a database of all premises located within the targeted counties they...Read more
Less than a year ago, we reported on Dalton, Georgia’s transition to becoming the first gigabit city in the state. In August, the community took it up a notch when they began offering 10 gigabit residential Internet access from Dalton Utilities’ OptiLink.
As Foretold by Hank
When we interviewed Chief Technical Services Officer Hank Blackwood last November about the new gigabit tier, he told us that 10 gig plans were in the works. The boost in capacity is part of the city’s long-term vision to lure more tech innovators to Dalton. In addition to attracting firms able to offer more jobs, community leaders want to provide an environment ripe for entrepreneurs who may find working from home the secret sauce.
From the press release announcing the new 10 gig service for $349.95 per month:
“We are proud to offer our residents the very best in ultra-high-speed Internet and next-generation video, delivering services wanted and needed by so many communities,” says Dalton Utilities’ Hank Blackwood, Chief Technical Services Officer. “Very few areas have this level of fiber optic capability.”
Subscribers can still sign up for OptiLink at gigabit, 100 Megabit per second (Mbps), 75 Mbps, and 50 Mbps services. When bundled with phone or OptiLink’s new VidLink service, subscribers can cut stand-alone rates by around $5 per month. All tiers provide symmetrical service.
Since 2003, residents and businesses have enjoyed access to fiber optic connectivity from Dalton Utilities. Like other public utilities, in the late 1990s utility management originally decided on fiber optic infrastructure investment as a way to better manage and control other utilities such as electric, water, gas, and water. As Dalton developed their supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, larger businesses in the community approached them and asked for connectivity via the fiber network.
Community leaders realized...Read more
Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities
Indiana in the Lead
Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.
Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.
State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband
A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...Read more
At a May 6 City Commission meeting in Decatur, Georgia, city leaders approved a project budget of $2.35 million to build a municipal I-Net and award the construction contract to Georgia-based Network Cabling Infrastructures, Inc. The decision came amid demands from cable giant Comcast that the community of about 24,000 immediately begin paying exorbitant fees for infrastructure the city has used under a past local franchise agreement. The case of sour grapes was resolved, but it once again reveals how the large corporate monopolies don't hesitate to flex their muscles when things don't go their way.
Conflict Over I-Net
The infrastructure at the center of the dispute dates back to the late 1990s to a franchise agreement Decatur made with MediaOne, which Comcast has since acquired. As part of the deal, MediaOne agreed to connect city facilities with a fiber network, and the city permitted the cable company to recover some construction costs through a 25 cent charge on subscribers’ monthly bills, up to a total cap of $200,000. MediaOne finished building the I-Net in 2000. Since then, Decatur has used the infrastructure without paying fees to MediaOne or Comcast for critical city operations.
Last year after working with a consultant, Decatur decided to replace the aging I-Net with a new, city owned fiber network and began to search for a contractor to build it. Comcast was one of several companies that responded to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) issued by Decatur in October, but it did not meet the requirements established by the city.
Less than one month after Decatur notified Comcast that it was not selected, the company told former City Manager Peggy Merriss that it planned to retire the I-Net right away, unless the city paid for its use. A few months later, Comcast reiterated its intentions to current City Manager Arnold, explaining that the company had acquired a state franchise to replace the local franchise agreement that ended in 2009. According to Arnold, Comcast decided to charge the city approximately $370,000 annually for use of the current I-Net until the new one is built.
At the Decatur City Commission meeting on April...Read more
Legislative changes are helping electric cooperatives continue to expand high-quality Internet access in rural parts of America. At least three state governments have bills in the works that empower cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service in their service territories.
Georgia, Maryland, Alabama
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law SB 2 and SB 17, which clarify that both electric and telephone cooperatives are able to provide broadband service. This change allows the electric cooperatives to use their easements which have been used for electric service to extend those easements so they also apply to equipment and lines needed in order to supply broadband service. Electric cooperatives have already been at work on providing Internet service in Georgia: Habersham Electric Cooperative operates Trailwave Network, and the Pineland Telephone and Jefferson Energy Cooperatives have partnered to bring Internet service to their communities.
In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has just approved SB 634 which similarly underscores how electric cooperatives can use their easements to provide broadband. Meanwhile in Alabama, HB 400 will codify in existing law that electric cooperatives have the ability to offer broadband service and that their easements are valid for that use. Alabama HB 400 has passed in the House and is now working its way through the Senate. Alabama cooperatives North Alabama Electric and Tom Bigbee Electric already provides high-speed Internet service in their service territories.
Cooperatives Bring New Tech to Rural Areas
The fact is, from electricity to Internet service,...Read more