Candidate for Governor Cagle Outlines Plan to Bring Rural Broadband to Georgia

Casey Cagle

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Georgia Lt. Governor and candidate for Governor Casey Cagle announced today the outline of a key component of his campaign: speeding the deployment of high-speed broadband to underserved areas in rural Georgia.

“Strong infrastructure represents a bedrock component of any strategy to create access to good paying jobs. All Georgians have benefited from the wise choices we have made together to bring roads, railroads, ports, airports and water storage to communities across our state. We need to move just as aggressively to bring high-speed data access to every community in our state. Georgia is full of hardworking, dynamic citizens who want to get good jobs and start new businesses, and we need to give them the broadband access they need to do it,” said Cagle.

Cagle’s proposal includes the following key components:

- Empower the Georgia Technology Authority: Under Cagle’s plan the Georgia Technology Authority would be responsible for implementing and overseeing innovative plans to expand Georgia’s broadband network. GTA will be authorized to continue gathering data for its Georgia Broadband Map to determine which communities have the greatest concentration of unserved people so that efforts are focused on areas with the greatest need. GTA will also be empowered to promulgate rules and regulations to advance the two necessary components of a well-functioning broadband network.

1. Accessibility: GTA will be tasked with incentivizing the build-out of broadband infrastructure, and providing more rural Georgians with access to high-speed internet.

2. Reliability: GTA will also be directed and funded to monitor speed and reliability of broadband providers who accept state incentives to extend their networks in rural Georgia. The resulting data would be made available to the public to help drive accountability for rural broadband providers to provide service that is fast and reliable. Providers that consistently fail to meet basic reliability and speed standards will be ineligible to receive favorable tax and regulatory treatment for future projects.

The authority’s responsibility to expand broadband access and reliability will be advanced by the following legislative actions that will incentivize private-sector solutions:

- Expedited local permitting: The plan proposes the creation of model guidelines around right of way access, fast local permitting, and low fees for broadband deployment. These guidelines will be developed in partnership with city and county leaders, as well as industry experts. Communities who choose to implement these guidelines will receive a special designation and will be eligible for broadband planning grants to accelerate deployment for their citizens.

- Sales tax elimination for rural broadband: Georgia, unlike 23 other states, currently charges sales tax on equipment used to supply broadband access. This tax significantly increases the cost of broadband, and limits the amount of capacity deployed in our state each year. Under Cagle’s plan, Georgia counties who are underserved with broadband capacity will be eligible for the suspension of sales tax on all equipment installed within their boundaries. This additional tool will help incentivize broadband capital investment into rural communities that would have otherwise been ignored.

- Public-Private Partnerships: Georgia currently has a public-private partnership law that allows businesses to partner with government to build public infrastructure. However, current law does not allow these partnerships to be used for broadband services. This new plan would amend the P3 law to allow businesses to co-invest with local governments to expand broadband supply. The new proposal would allow local governments to co-invest with existing broadband providers within their jurisdictions to accelerate deployment. This will give local governments more ability to directly support broadband expansion within their counties if they choose to do so. 

- Planning Grants: The final component of the proposal would create state planning grants, administered by the Georgia Technology Authority, to fund engineering, legal and technical costs for local governments in underserved areas. This seed capital will allow local governments with limited resources to tap into top experts to develop the data needed to create sound plans that will attract providers to expand broadband access within their borders. Grants will be administered strategically to local governments in underserved areas that become eligible by streamlining their permitting process and proving their ability to maximize private investment.

“State government should not approach this problem with a one-size fits all approach that dictates to local governments and the private sector how to move forward. Instead, we should focus on slashing regulatory barriers, holding our broadband providers accountable, and reducing the tax burden on broadband to accelerate deployment. When I was in Dahlonega last week, I met with a small business owner that is forced to pay $12,000 a month for operational internet. That is unacceptable, and this plan represents a series of first steps to give rural Georgians real broadband access and reliability. We will begin working immediately in cooperation with House leadership, to refine this strategy and move forward on it next year,” Cagle continued.