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Georgia Public Policy Foundation Outlines Private Broadband Investment Plan

September 15, 2016

Blue and red fibre optical cablesKelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF), posted a column last week on the GPPF website arguing Georgia needs a “forward-thinking telecommunication policy” to make it “a great place to live and economically competitive.”

What would that plan look like. Here are McCutchen’s suggestions:

  • Lift the state’s sales tax on telecommunications network equipment. McCutchen explains that, “if you tax something you get less of it.” That’s exactly why Georgia doesn’t tax raw materials or energy used in manufacturing. Lifting this tax will encourage new broadband investment and competition, McCutchen says.
  • Streamline telecommunications regulations. McCutchen points out that Georgia created a program to help streamline regulations for movie production companies that want to film in the state, so why not create a similar program for telecommunications companies? He notes, “Indiana and Wisconsin already have a similar process, which includes granting equal access to public rights-of-way, infrastructure and poles.”
  • Promote “dig once” programs that encourage “the placement of conduit along roads and inside buildings that can be used by multiple service providers to encourage competition.”
  • Utilize public-private partnerships in unserved or underserved rural communities.

McCutchen concludes by arguing, “Local governments should not try to operate their own network.” He warns, “Consultants who paint a rosy picture of municipal networks are often the only ones to come out on top while cities are left with fewer than expected customers, higher than expected expenses and long-term debt.” In a worst case scenario, McCutchen says, a local government can “hire a private operator to build out and operate the network,” which would limit taxpayer exposure.

The private sector has already served Georgians well. McCutchen cites FCC figures that show 87 percent of Georgians have access to wired broadband connections with speeds of 25 megabits per second. (That figure includes 75 percent of Georgians in rural areas.) He also notes Georgia is the 14th most connected state in the nation, its access rates are “well above the US average of 61 percent,” and “every Georgia school, public health department and hospital is connected to wired broadband.”