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Bill might limit county broadband plan

Posted: January 27, 2012 - 4:10pm

Twitter @ColumbiaCounty

High-speed Internet systems owned by local governments wouldn’t be able to offer lower rates than private companies in the same market under legislation gaining opposition from mayors and commissioners.

State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers said he introduced Senate Bill 313 on Monday to protect taxpayers and encourage private investment.

A dozen cities and a handful of counties have launched cable-television networks that also provide connection to the Internet. Few have competing private companies, but the telecommunications industry complains that governments have an unfair advantage that prevents them from trying to compete.

Under Rogers’ bill, before a city or county government could launch an Internet system, it would have to take bids from private providers, hold public hearings and let voters decide to go forward or not.

Government-run systems would pay the same taxes that private companies pay.

Crews in Columbia County are installing 220 miles of fiber-optic lines and building wireless-communication towers as part of an $18 million project, with $13.5 million coming from a federal stimulus grant, to make broadband services accessible to all areas of the county. The installation is set to conclude this year with Internet services possibly available by this time next year.

County officials have said they don’t intend to become a residential Internet service provider. They hope to lease the use of their fiber-optic network to such providers as Comcast and Knology.

Officials plan to use the broadband network, though, as an economic incentive by offering cheap, possibly even free, access to the broadband lines, County Administrator Scott Johnson said last week.

County officials hope such a tool, along with direct access to a global broadband network in Atlanta, might lure high-tech firms to expand or move to the county.

Rogers said the bill’s goal is to erase governments’ advantages when they compete against private companies.

“This bill will allow for robust competition in the communication marketplace and encourage continued economic growth throughout our state,” said Rogers, R-Woodstock. “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.”

He said his plan would not keep government-run systems from claiming any federal money available for extending Internet access.

“The bill does not prohibit a local government from building a network, only requires if they compete with private sector they must play by the same rules and must have approval by local voters,” he said.

Columbia County agreed in March 2010 to spend at least $2.7 million in local money as a 20 percent match to accept the stimulus grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. So far, the county has set aside $4.5 million in 1-cent sales taxes for the Broadband Utility Department.

Local officials plan to fight the bill.

“We feel like broadband is key to economic development,” said Amy Henderson, the spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association. “Where it was put in, private entities weren’t willing to go there.”

Though governments might have some tax advantages, private companies don’t have to open all their records to the public the way cities and counties must, she said. Plus, a large telecom company could use profits made in one part of the state to subsidize operations in another, while local governments are limited to doing business in one location.

Similar bills are under consideration in other states as telecom companies mount a concerted effort to reach the few areas with government-run systems.

Henderson said the telecom companies are trying to avoid price competition from the governments that benefits consumers.

The telecom companies have beefed up their lobbying forces this legislative session. Many lawmakers have received campaign contributions from them, including Rogers, who rejects any suggestion that they might have motivated him.

“For someone to infer that my support for the private sector over the public sector is somehow tied to campaign support is ignorant to my entire 10-year legislative record,” he said.

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Comments (8)

Riverman1

The new Columbia County

The new Columbia County administrator, Scott Johnson, is the one who led us to spend millions on this deal and countless manhours applying for the federal dollars. What a fiasco. Why the competition with private enterprise?

Techfan

Another reason why the US is

Another reason why the US is 28th among industrialized nations in broadband speed. Politicians in the pockets of corporations (ie. contributers) to favor their bottom line at the expense of communities, individuals, and the nation.

Techfan

Ah, now for the rest of the

Riverman1

Should the County Fund Private Schools?

I wonder if this is not the same situation?

Riverman1

Should We Also Give Computers to Everyone?

The high speed internet in rural Columbia County won't work unless those unwilling to pay for it now are able to get computers. So what's the next step?

lsmith

Just another extortionist move to limit broadband options.

This bill is obviously penned by the current broadband moguls who want to continue to monopolate the market, keep our options limited and prices high. Everyone needs to send this renegadge bought and paid for industry friendly senator a letter of outrage. This has to stop......I aleady feel like comcast should be paying me for hooking their service to my tv. It's got nothing but commericals on every channel, 10 at a time every 15 minutes and continuously alll night long after 3 am......

Sweet son

Commisioners Shoot Selves in Foot Again!

Sounds like the Commisioners put as much planning and forethought into this project as they did on Magnolia Trace! Maybe we need some RC commisioners to straighten them out! LOL!

gadogfan

Just back up the concrete

Just back up the concrete trucks and start filling in all the holes! Wasn't this the new county administrators project? And, a new division was created and a new building built for it! But it was money from a federal grant and splost money.....so the answer will be no taxes have been used!

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