The Georgia legislature is currently considering a bill that would effectively make it impossible for any city in the state to provide for high-speed Internet access networks — even in areas in which the private sector cannot or will not.
Why would my state’s legislators (like Senator Rogers) want to prevent local and municipal governments from supplying internet connectivity to their communities? For that matter, I can’t imagine why commercial interests who refuse to provide service to rural areas would actively lobby my state legislature to prevent municipalities from doing it themselves.
Crawford goes on to say:
The Georgia bill is chock-full of sand traps and areas of deep statutory fog from which no local public network is likely ever to emerge. In addition to the ordinary public hearings that any municipality would hold on the subject, a town looking to build a public network would have to hold a referendum. It wouldn’t be allowed to spend any money in support of its position (there would be no such prohibition on the deep-pocketed incumbents). The community wouldn’t be allowed to support its network with local taxes or surplus revenues from any other services (although incumbents routinely and massively subsidize their networks with revenue from other businesses).
Most pernicious of all, the public operator would have to include in the costs of its service the phantom, imputed “capital costs” and “taxes” of a private provider. This is a fertile area for disputes, litigation and delay, as no one knows what precise costs and taxes are at issue, much less how to calculate these amounts. The public provider would also have to comply with all laws and “requirements” applicable to “the communications service,” if it were made available by “a private provider,” although again the law doesn’t specify which service is involved or which provider is relevant.
The end result of all this vague language will be to make it all but impossible for a city to obtain financing to build its network. Although the proponents of Georgia’s bill claim that they are merely trying to create a level playing field, these are terms and conditions that no new entrant, public or private, can meet — and that the incumbents themselves do not live by. You can almost hear the drafters laughing about how impossible the entire enterprise will be.
What makes this whole episode particularly odious is how desperately rural Georgia needs high-speed internet access. I’ve spent two decades–as a classroom teacher, an instructional technologist, a digital content developer, and university professor–trying to help my (non-metro) area of the state improve the quality of education through the meaningful integration of technology. I know rural students who would love to enroll in online classes. I know teachers who would like to be able to digitally connect with and support learners beyond the classroom day. I know small town businesses and citizens who would like to have the same opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. These folks would appreciate high-speed internet access. I think any public figure who would come forward and make that happen would be a hero.
Do we have anyone like that in our legislature in Georgia?
- Kim Severson’s 2011 New York Times article, Digital Age Is Slow to Arrive in Rural America underscores many of the challenges faced by rural Americans who need high-speed internet access.
- Are Rural Broadband Maps Showing Problems Or Opportunities? by Fred Hoot, suggests that bringing high-speed internet access to rural areas might turn out to be an excellent investment.
- Rob Pegoraro’s Discovery News post, Map Shows 3G Dead Zones explains how the Federal Communications Commission has visualized some of the lowest points in our nation’s wireless coverage (areas where no 3G service can be found).
Following up on Pegoraro’s story, the map below was created by the the FCC. It shows the areas identified as potentially eligible for Mobility Fund Phase 1 support. Look at the black spots. Those are areas where there is no mobile broadband service. Specifically, these areas are, according to the FCC
US Census blocks that lack 3G or better mobile coverage at the centroid of the block according to January 2012 American Roamer data and contain road miles in any of nine road categories. Counties that contain any of these blocks are shaded light gray, and as you zoom in and mouse over these counties you will see more information on the potentially eligible blocks, including population, road miles (S1100, S1200, and S1400 categories only), and the name and number of the CMA in which the blocks are located. Further zooming in allows you to see the US Census tracts that contain these blocks.