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Bill would limit government Internet systems

Legislation to add rules for government projects

Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 7:28 PM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 3:52 AM
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ATLANTA — High-speed Internet systems owned by local governments wouldn’t be able to offer lower rates than private companies in the same market under legislation gaining opposition from mayors and commissioners.

State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers said he introduced Senate Bill 313 on Monday to protect taxpayers and encourage private investment.

A dozen cities and a handful of counties have launched cable-television networks that also provide connection to the Internet. Few have competing private companies, but the telecommunications industry complains that governments have an unfair advantage that prevents them from trying to compete.

Under Rogers’ bill, before a city or county government could launch an Internet system, it would have to take bids from private providers, hold public hearings and let voters decide to go forward or not.

Government-run systems would pay the same taxes that private companies pay.

Crews in Columbia County are installing 220 miles of fiber-optic lines and building wireless-communication towers as part of an $18 million project, with $13.5 million coming from a federal stimulus grant, to make broadband services accessible to all areas of the county. The installation is set to conclude this year with Internet services possibly available by this time next year.

County officials have said they don’t intend to become a residential Internet service provider. They hope to lease the use of their fiber-optic network to such providers as Comcast and Knology.

Officials plan to use the broadband network, though, as an economic incentive by offering cheap, possibly even free, access to the broadband lines, County Administrator Scott Johnson said last week.

County officials hope such a tool, along with direct access to a global broadband network in Atlanta, might lure high-tech firms to expand or move to the county.

Rogers said the bill’s goal is to erase governments’ advantages when they compete against private companies.

“This bill will allow for robust competition in the communication marketplace and encourage continued economic growth throughout our state,” said Rogers, R-Woodstock. “By extending our long-standing commitment to policies that encourage private investment and market-driven competition, we are putting the needs of our citizens above those of government.”

He said his plan would not keep government-run systems from claiming any federal money available for extending Internet access.

“The bill does not prohibit a local government from building a network, only requires if they compete with private sector they must play by the same rules and must have approval by local voters,” he said.

Columbia County agreed in March 2010 to spend at least $2.7 million in local money as a 20 percent match to accept the stimulus grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. So far, the county has set aside $4.5 million in 1-cent sales taxes for the Broadband Utility Department.

Local officials plan to fight the bill.

“We feel like broadband is key to economic development,” said Amy Henderson, the spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association. “Where it was put in, private entities weren’t willing to go there.”

Though governments might have some tax advantages, private companies don’t have to open all their records to the public the way cities and counties must, she said. Plus, a large telecom company could use profits made in one part of the state to subsidize operations in another, while local governments are limited to doing business in one location.

Similar bills are under consideration in other states as telecom companies mount a concerted effort to reach the few areas with government-run systems.

Henderson said the telecom companies are trying to avoid price competition from the governments that benefits consumers.

The telecom companies have beefed up their lobbying forces this legislative session. Many lawmakers have received campaign contributions from them, including Rogers, who rejects any suggestion that they might have motivated him.

“For someone to infer that my support for the private sector over the public sector is somehow tied to campaign support is ignorant to my entire 10-year legislative record,” he said.

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Riverman1
83924
Points
Riverman1 01/26/12 - 09:34 pm
0
0
I told y'all there was

I told y'all there was something screwy about government competing with private companies. The new Col Cty administrator was bragging how the private Grovetown cable company would now have competition with the government laid lines. That just struck me as being absolutely unfair. Apparently, others agree.

Bobby Hill
0
Points
Bobby Hill 01/26/12 - 09:59 pm
0
0
Similar law passed last year
Unpublished

Similar law passed last year in NC. Lobbyist will spend $$$ and the bill will pass in GA as well !! Appears as though someone failed to do their homework before pursuing the project in Col Cnty.

Riverman1
83924
Points
Riverman1 01/26/12 - 10:01 pm
0
0
Columbia County spent

Columbia County spent millions on this deal and countless manhours applying for the federal dollars. What a fiasco.

double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 01/26/12 - 10:03 pm
0
0
Well I only saw Mexicans

Well I only saw Mexicans digging the lines. So much for hometown workers.

Bobby Hill
0
Points
Bobby Hill 01/26/12 - 10:08 pm
0
0
Maybe they can use it to
Unpublished

Maybe they can use it to provide free service in Magnolia Trace!

Riverman1
83924
Points
Riverman1 01/26/12 - 10:21 pm
0
0
Look at this from another

Look at this from another article. The county even started a "Broadband Utility Department" for this thing. I guess they will have to disband it now. Heh.

"During his time as deputy administrator, Johnson launched an $18 million project to expand broadband access.

In March 2010, Columbia County won a $13.5 million federal stimulus grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program.

County officials agreed to match at least 20 percent of the grant, and work began on installing more than 200 miles of fiber cable and 60 free Wi-Fi hotspots. The Broadband Utility Department also was established."

JRC2024
8863
Points
JRC2024 01/27/12 - 01:33 am
0
0
If government is going to

If government is going to compete with private business then the should and must be under the same rules, pay rent, pay all other taxes and fees that private business does and buy all the licenses required out of profits and not tax payer money.

southern2
6133
Points
southern2 01/27/12 - 07:28 am
0
0
Maybe Comcast can get a few

Maybe Comcast can get a few million from Obama's stash to construct a separate Fire Dept, AT&T could government fund a new Police Dept and Knology a new water and sewerage system. Since Columbia County is so eager to compete with the private sector it only seems "fair" (new political buzz word) to let the private sector compete for the essentials.

createyourfuture
68
Points
createyourfuture 01/27/12 - 08:00 am
0
0
Just like the drainage

Just like the drainage project in Springlakes, this is another reason to not vote in a SPLOST for the bozos to use.

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 01/27/12 - 09:25 am
0
0
Can someone explain this to

Can someone explain this to me:

Columbia County officials have said they don’t intend to become a residential Internet service provider. . . . Officials plan to use the broadband network, though, as an economic incentive by offering cheap, possibly even free, access to the broadband lines, County Administrator Scott Johnson said last week.

How do you offer free access without being a service provider?

augusta citizen
9337
Points
augusta citizen 01/27/12 - 10:23 am
0
0
createyourfuture, good point,

createyourfuture, good point, vote NO to all SPLOSTS!!!

Chillen
17
Points
Chillen 01/27/12 - 10:40 am
0
0
I'll be voting no for all

I'll be voting no for all future SPLOSTS. The CC govt has proven that they mismanage the money.

Why give them an open ended slush fund?

Mr. Thackeray
910
Points
Mr. Thackeray 01/27/12 - 01:33 pm
0
0
“For someone to infer that my

“For someone to infer that my support for the private sector over the public sector is somehow tied to campaign support is ignorant to my entire 10-year legislative record,” he said.

Yeah, next line: "I did not have sex with that telecom company!"

resident
489
Points
resident 01/27/12 - 01:34 pm
0
0
I have an idea yes I agree

I have an idea yes I agree that the county should not be an Internet provider. If leasing was the desire then lets take the money for "leases" and pay for schooling, or things like road repairs that seem to be ignored unless someone else like Fed or State is paying the bill. They could put in solar panels, replace traffic lights and other things enrgy efficient to cust costs and save even more taxpayer money so we do not have to keep looking for mil increases to pay for subdiv building of infastructure.

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