Georgia EMCs Outline Bold Solutions for Rural Broadband during PSC Testimony
Friday, December 4th, 2020
Wrapping up more than two days of testimony, Georgia’s not-for-profit EMCs outlined a generous, result-oriented proposal called the “Georgia Solution” to encourage qualified broadband providers to deploy high-speed internet to unserved rural Georgia. The testimony is part of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing, convened on Tuesday, November 17, to determine the fair rent to be paid by internet providers to attach wires and cables to member-owned EMC utility poles.
For-profit cable and telecommunications companies have long advanced false claims that rates charged by Georgia EMCs to attach their cables to the utility poles owned and maintained by EMC members are barriers to broadband deployment in the state’s unserved areas. In fact, EMCs illustrated in the hearing that the rent amount EMCs collect under current contractual agreements is far less than the attachers’ fair share of the true cost of the poles.
Although there is no merit to the cable and telecommunications industry’s claims that pole attachment rates are a barrier to broadband, the EMCs’ “Georgia Solution” addresses these issues directly. The Georgia Solutionoffers access to EMC poles in unserved areas at a dramatically reduced rate and expedited pole access to speed deployment. The EMCs have proposed the Georgia Solution only in tandem with a fair rate to be set by the PSC, reflecting true costs to EMCs across the state.
Under the One Buck Deal, EMCs are offering an introductory rate – just one dollar, per pole, per year for five years for new attachments – to any qualified broadband provider that will deliver high-speed internet to the EMCs’ unserved members. Georgia One Touch Make Ready empowers attaching companies to prepare EMC poles without delay to expand broadband resulting in cheaper, faster and more efficient attachment to the poles.
During her testimony, Wendy Sellers, CEO of Washington EMC, explained the benefits of the One Buck Deal for providers stating, “It gives them [broadband providers] the opportunity to construct with a low attachment rate, the ability to connect customers and the ability to start making revenue before they start paying the cost in order to provide that service.”
Ms. Sellers also noted the loss of rent that would result from the mandate of a lower rate would harm more than four million EMC members, many of the same Georgians already suffering without broadband and who can least afford an increase in their energy rates.
The for-profit national broadband providers are pushing for lower EMC pole attachment fees across the entire state, even in areas they already serve. In the hearing, Georgia EMC noted that this tactic amounts to a wealth transfer from the pockets of EMC member-owners to cable and telecommunication company profits. And for the many EMCs, who are already creating partnerships or are in the process of designing solutions for their territories, a decreased pole attachment rate could actually render them financially unable to help deploy broadband into unserved areas.
Sellers pointed out that while Georgia Power has been under the much lower, federally-mandated FCC pole attachment rate for decades, 43% of the company’s service territory is unserved by broadband.
Danny Nichols, CEO of Colquitt EMC, added that if pole attachment rates are lowered, the EMCs, as not-for-profit entities, will have to make up for the lost cost recovery by raising electric rates, cutting services or both, impacting the Georgia families that can least afford it.
Nichols stated, “The cable companies want everyone to believe that if Georgia EMCs have to raise rates to make up for their rightfully-earned pole attachment revenue, it would not be a big deal. That is absolutely not true. Any rate increase is impactful in poor communities … so, it’s really all of our member-owners who would be funding the cable companies year after year. The bottom line is that this kind of wealth transfer is not right or fair.”
Georgia EMC’s Georgia Solution also includes one statewide rate for pole attachment agreements entered into on or after July 1, 2021. The fair rate protects more than 4 million EMC member-owners, who, through their monthly electric bills, fund all cooperative expenses, including the poles that internet providers use, and from which cable companies derive their profits.
In recent years, Georgia EMCs have been aggressively pursuing solutions to help expand broadband. Some have created affiliates and are already providing broadband service to members and many are exploring or have formed partnerships with broadband providers. Just this year, partnerships were announced by Carroll EMC, Colquitt EMC and Amicalola EMC to expand access for thousands of Georgia households. On the heels of this news, other EMCs are negotiating with providers in hopes of announcing partnership agreements of their own in the near future. EMCs cannot continue forming partnerships to deploy broadband without a fair pole attachment rental rate.
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