Right at the deadline, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill this week allowing rural electric cooperatives to operate broadband services. On April 2, the last day of the General Assembly’s 2019 session, it passed Senate Bill 2 by a 54-2 vote in the Senate and 160-0 in the House. Governor Brian Kemp (R) is expected to sign it into law.
“This authorizes one of the main players in rural Georgia to provide a service they’re not legally authorized to provide now,” said Representative Jay Powell (R), co-chairman of the Georgia House Rural Development Committee, as quoted in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We’re trying to break down the barriers that prevent service from being provided.”
Along with allowing electric cooperatives to provide broadband service, SB-2 also allows co-ops to “form, fund, support, and operate a broadband affiliate, directly or indirectly.” An affiliate could take the form of a partnership among electric cooperatives. The co-op or broadband affiliate also would be free to “enter into contracts, agreements, partnerships, or other types of business relationships with any person,” including possible partnerships with rural telephone companies.
The Georgia action could be part of a wider trend of state governments encouraging electric cooperatives to enter the broadband business. Mississippi enacted a similar law earlier this year. In mid-March, the Oklahoma Senate passed another electric cooperative broadband bill (SB-1002) by a 40-7 margin. That bill is now in committee in the house. It has an April 19 deadline to be voted out of committee in order to be considered during the current legislative session. Other states could take up similar measures during future legislative sessions.