On Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation that removes barriers to broadband expansion in rural Georgia and allows electric cooperatives, including Coastal Electric Cooperative, to evaluate how they might contribute to the expansion of broadband services in their respective areas.
Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) and Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) championed Senate Bill 2, which gives electric co-ops legal authority to provide broadband services.
“The legislation is a good first step and allows us to begin discussions with our boards and members to explore possible challenges and opportunities in our community,” said Coastal Electric CEO Whit Hollowell.
Lawmakers and business leaders agree that access to broadband is beneficial to economic development and robust rural communities but also recognize that costs to build fiber networks, combined with rapidly changing wireless technologies, create significant challenges for extending broadband service to the less populated areas of the state.
As a result, individual electric co-ops may consider a variety of options, if there is a business case to do so – including partnerships with established companies and existing providers – as they consider deploying broadband.
According to Hollowell, an undertaking of this magnitude will require support and involvement from a variety of participants throughout a long, deliberative process. After the Rural Electrification Administration was established in the mid-1930s, it took decades to fully plan, fund and build the state’s electric infrastructure. A similar cautious and thoughtful approach – including gaining critical board and member input – will be required as Coastal Electric Cooperative considers playing a role in expanding high-speed internet service to the area.
“Careful planning and keeping our members’ best interests in mind are already at the core of everything we do in delivering reliable electricity to our community,” Hollowell said. “The same due diligence will be essential when evaluating the possibilities of broadband service.”
Georgia joins several neighboring states such as Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi that have passed legislation aimed at expanding broadband access for customers in rural areas.
Coastal Electric Cooperative is a not-for-profit, community-owned electric cooperative providing electricity and related services to more than 19,000 member-consumers in Bryan, Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties. Coastal Electric Cooperative is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Drug-Free Workplace Employer.