The need for rural broadband has many similarities to rural electrification. In both instances, large utilities were not properly serving the rural communities, even when given ample opportunity. Established Utilities claimed it was too expensive to bring electricity to rural homes.
Electric Cooperatives, like Canoochee EMC, were the answer for rural communities in the 1930s, and perhaps they can be part of the answer again now. We are again hearing that cost is getting in the way of why our rural Georgians are not being provided dependable internet service. This sounds like history repeating itself.
We are aware that there are local providers in our area that have dramatically upgraded their systems over the last several years, but too many of Canoochee’s members do not have the service they require to meet their needs.
Canoochee EMC would like to explore rural broadband. We will begin by conducting a survey to assess the needs of member households in Canoochee’s territory. The results of this survey will give us a clearer path of how we would we would proceed.
It is important to remember that we are not committing to providing broadband internet service to our members. We are, however; very interested in the quality of life of our members, and if we can improve our communities, while strengthening our cooperative, we owe it to our members to explore our options.
We are also watching how the Georgia Legislature is handling the rural broadband discussion.
As it stands now, the Georgia House has passed a bill (HB23) that would give EMCs statutory authority to provide broadband services, while still providing cross subsidization protections for consumers and existing providers. This bill passed the Georgia House 169-0. It will have to the pass the Georgia Senate. The Georgia Senate is also deliberating its own bill, but has yet to come to a vote.
Lastly, I think it is also important to remember that whatever solution that is decided upon will take time to develop. It took many years for the electric system of Georgia to be fully established, and solving Georgia’s rural broadband will also take time.
Phillips is CEO of Canoochee EMC.