At first blush, the stances of the two candidates for Georgia on the issue of broadband deployment are pretty much standard fare. Citing her responses to a questionnaire by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Democratic Party candidate Stacey Abrams describes broadband an essential business service. To boost the economy of rural Georgia, Ms. Abrams mentions her support for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s efforts to expand broadband along the state’s rights-of-way.
Ms. Abrams is referring to the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Georgia Interstate and Wireless Broadband Deployment P3 Project. The primary goal of GDOT’s broadband project is statewide expansion of GDOT’s NaviGAtor traffic management system. GDOT considers NaviGAtor as a first step toward bringing broadband to more of the state’s citizens. GDOT states that by recycling its assets i.e. state rights-of-way, GDOT can accomplish the mission without any additional tax revenues. Once private partners are on board, the project is slated to take 25 years to design construct, and deploy the fiber optic cable and small cell network along 1,300 miles of state rights-of-way.
Republican Party candidate Brian Kemp echoes Ms. Abrams sentiments about broadband being a game changer for rural Georgia. While not citing GDOT’s NaviGAtor, Mr. Kemp cites similar benefits offered by the state’s program including eliminating fees for use of state rights-of-way; exploring tax incentives for tech companies and entrepreneurs committed to expanding high-speed internet access in rural Georgia, and incentivizing public/private partnerships with the use of low interest loans.
Rural broadband deployment has moved further to the front of the national policy agenda line. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, himself a native of rural Kansas, has been touting closing the rural digital divide since joining the FCC.
Georgia, according to the website BroadbandNow, is America’s 20th most connected state, but has some work to do when it comes to increasing the availability of alternatives for 1.4 million residents who have access to only one wired provider. Approximately 870,000 Georgia residents do not have access to a wired connection with at least 25 megabits per second download speeds.
Georgia has already taken steps to help bring more broadband networks to its citizens. In addition to GDOT’s NaviGAtor traffic management system, the state’s Department of Community Affairs is required to develop the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative, a program that provides for funding for the purpose of delivering broadband to unserved areas. Money is to be spent on capital expenses and expenses directly related to the purchase or lease of property or to communications services or facilities. Through the funding of qualified political subdivisions i.e. cities, counties, etc., Georgia hopes to promote trade, commerce, investment, and employment opportunities.
An additional state resource that Georgia can use to close its rural broadband divide is the OneGeorgia Authority. OneGeorgia, with the use of two funds, provides financing for rural areas committed to developing their economies. By law, Georgia’s governor serves as OneGeorgia’s chairman, putting either Ms. Abrams or Mr. Kemp in a power position to drive rural Georgia’s broadband deployment in particular and the state’s economic growth overall.