Part III: New Ballgame for Broadband


Credit: iStock

Nov 24, 2021
Key Points
  • Hundreds of thousands of families and businesses across the state lack reliable modern-day internet to tackle their jobs and attend school.
  • Around $700 million could help bridge the digital divide between Georgia’s urban and rural counties.
  • Costs of building broadband – at several thousand dollars per location – highlights the need for local governments to keep providers from duplicating service or cherry-picking easier-to-reach areas.

The big-money projects headed Georgia’s way pose a new challenge for a state that has only budgeted a small fraction of its homegrown taxpayer dollars for broadband expansion, compared to the federal trove available now. Advocates say state and local officials need to watch where the new federal-funded internet lines roll out so that provider companies don’t double up service, leaving residents in some areas with fast internet while their neighbors go without.

Doubling-up service has happened in many places where federal funds have gone toward broadband construction, including among some Georgia companies that nabbed part of roughly $326 million from the FCC in recent years. The FCC sent letters to dozens of fund recipients across the U.S. this past summer notifying that their projects may overlap with already-served areas, raising “significant concerns about wasteful spending, such as parking lots and international airports.”

How closely Georgia officials keep track of several new broadband projects poised for federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding could depend on contracts that state, city and county governments hammer out with local partner providers like AT&T and electrical cooperatives, said the ACCG’s Mueller. Federal guidelines don’t spell out any rules on doubling up service or selecting easier-to-build locations that might cover fewer people overall. That will fall to local governments and their partner providers to decide.

“It’s the contracts that the local governments and the state enter into with private companies,” Mueller said. “If it’s not in the contract, then they’ll do it.”

The buck also doesn’t stop with construction costs to lay fiber-optic lines underground or on telephone poles. Cities, counties and their local providers that win the upcoming federal dollars need the operational know-how and repair expertise to maintain high-speed internet long into the future, said A2D’s Quarles.

“The challenge is how these [cities and counties] think beyond a construction contract,” Quarles said. “This is a true utility operation. It can’t just be about a construction project.”


Part IV: Broadband by Committee