The Broadband Investment Equity Act, S.B. 313, was introduced this week in the Georgia State Senate. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, is intended to level the playing field between private and public providers of broadband services.
“Broadband is a vital tool for education reform and economic development. This bill will allow for robust competition in the communication marketplace and encourage continued economic growth throughout our state,” said Rogers. “By extending our long-standing commitment to policies that encourage private investment and market-driven competition, we are putting the needs of our citizens above those of government.”
SB 313 includes a number of requirements apparently designed to ensure that private sector providers of broadband services are not put to a disadvantage. For example, before a city or county can directly provide broadband services to the public, the city or county must give first dibs to a private sector provider by issuing a request for proposals to provide services.
In addition, the city or county must hold a special election that allows voters to determine whether they want their municipality to deliver broadband services. Citizens must also be informed of the costs and projected revenues from public provision of broadband and must also be told that costs must be recovered solely from revenues generated by the service.
Under the legislation, a public provider of broadband services would not be off the hook for taxes and fees that a private provider would owe a city or municipality. Taxes, fees, cost of capital, expenses for securing building, plant, and other facilities would all have to be accounted for in rates charged by the public provider.
Also, a city or county that has a public provider must give private providers access to the municipality’s poles and public rights-of-way – sidewalks, parks, etc. – on the same terms and conditions as the public provider.
According to Mr. Rogers, “the Broadband Investment Equity Act will ensure local governments do not use their powers to delay another service in an effort to force residents to use the public provider and prohibits the increase of cost of business taxes or fees charged to private providers to pay for debt of a government owned communication network.”
The bill is being reviewed by the Senate Committee on Regulated Utilities and Industries.
No hearing date is available.