On Tuesday, April 2nd, the General Assembly adjourned Sine Die. Over the course of the 40-day session, the Senate spent hours debating legislation in committee meetings and on the Senate Floor, in order to produce the most precise language in all of the bills that were passed. Included in this is my broadband legislation package, Senate Bills 2, 17 and 66. As many of you know, bringing access to broadband throughout our state has remained a priority of mine. Since the goal of broadband legislation was introduced years ago, study committees have been created to hear from all parties involved, and further, hours of discussion were spent amongst these parties and legislators. After passing the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee, the bills were passed by the Rules Committee and Senate body and then through the same process in the House. After a timeless amount of hard work, I am proud to announce that Senate Bills 2, 17 and 66 each received final passage by the General Assembly and the last step of being signed into law by the governor is quickly approaching.
In order to make this legislation possible, several agencies and individuals were working behind the scenes to ensure that the language in the bill met their needs, while compromising to meet the needs of other industries involved. I want to applaud all of the tireless work every helping hand played in getting this legislation to the finish line. While access to broadband may have started as a desire for some, it has become a necessity for many. Technological advances have proven to provide economic development, access to education and educational support as well as patients’ access to doctors through telehealth, to name a few.
Senate Bill 2 is the only part of the package that the House made a few adjustments to that I wanted to highlight. Included in the language that received final passage, electric membership corporations (EMCs) providing broadband services will be permitted to use existing easements to provide or expand broadband access. Owners of the electric easement being used to deploy broadband services will not be liable and would not receive compensation, so long as no additional poles or ground based structures are installed. However, electric utilities owning an electric easement can assess fees and conditions for the use of its facility if they are providing or supporting broadband services.
Senate Bill 17, also known as the “Rural Telephone Cooperative Act,” was unanimously passed through the Senate and would allow telephone cooperatives in Metter, Newington, Rentz and Statesboro to provide internet services and broadband to their customers. These four co-ops provide either direct or indirect service to more than eight counties and 10 cities.
Senate Bill 66, or the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act,” would allow for a standardized application process for 5G companies to collocate small wireless facilities (antennas) on existing or new poles. The bill also addresses the use of public rights of way by wireless providers to deploy broadband.
I again want to thank every person and agency involved in helping make this legislation possible. I believe that our patience in the process will lead to the best results and I look forward to seeing the many benefits all Georgians throughout the state will receive through its passage. Though I discussed my broadband bills the most in detail over the session, many other pieces of important legislation received final passage. Over the next several weeks I will send out updates on other bills that passed and what the legislation means for you. It has been a pleasure to serve the 51st district this session and I look forward to continuing addressing your needs in the sessions to come.
Sen. Steve Gooch serves as Majority Whip of the Senate Majority Caucus. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.