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GDOT initiative could improve telecommunications across state

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Georgia Department of Transportation explores leasing right of way to contractors to expand broadband, cellular infrastructure

(ATLANTA) Increasingly, the world is dependent on high-speed internet and reliable cell phone service. But many throughout Georgia rely on spotty or inconsistent cellular and slow internet.

“Georgia DOT has no desire to get into the utility business. These are public-private partnerships—P3s—that would be financed, developed, managed and maintained by private contractors on state-owned property.”

Better days may be ahead as Georgia DOT explores two initiatives—broadband and wireless—that use the state-owned right-of-way (ROW) to expand the 511 Navigator system statewide, as well as enhance telecommunications for all Georgians.

“We are looking at the potential to use cutting-edge technology to improve the everyday lives of Georgians – not only by expanding and enhancing statewide traffic communications, but also by improving cell phone and broadband internet options for the public,” GDOT Division Director of Operations John Hibbard, P.E. explained today in a presentation to the State Transportation Board. “Georgia DOT has no desire to get into the utility business. These are public-private partnerships—P3s—that would be financed, developed, managed and maintained by private contractors on state-owned property.”

The department is reviewing responses from the broadband and cellular industries to Georgia DOT’s requests for information (RFI) about two potential programs.

  • The broadband initiative would install conduit on the ROW along all Georgia interstates. The developer would sell or lease the conduit space to others who would install fiber-optic cable for private use. Fiber-optic technology transmits data through durable thin glass strands that carry a tremendous amount of data at exceptionally fast speeds. Installing this fiber would provide improved statewide internet coverage to meet the internet needs of rural communities while enabling GDOT to better connect all offices and improve traffic management throughout Georgia.

    “80 percent of Georgians live within 20 miles of an interstate,” Hibbard said. “Installing this technology along the interstates should result in tremendous benefits for all Georgians, especially those in rural regions.”

  • The wireless initiative would utilize “small cell” poles on the ROW of state routes to facilitate the change from 4G technology to 5G, which offers far greater speed and capacity. The developer would sell or lease space on the poles for use by wireless communications providers. Existing poles would be used when possible. Where a new pole must be installed, its placement along the ROW would be carefully considered, with public safety being the primary consideration. While small cell poles are much shorter than traditional cell phone towers—50 feet versus 250 feet—more are required because 5G travels shorter distances. This technology would meet the wireless communications needs of Georgia DOT, as well as those of the public.

“The potential benefits are enormous, not only for transportation management in Georgia, but also for people in their homes and businesses, and for the economic development that could result from increased connections,” Hibbard said. “Several states have had varying degrees of success with similar programs. We are looking at all angles to come up with just the right model for Georgia.”

Gov. Nathan Deal and state legislators are supportive of initial concepts. The next step, after the first of the year, would be for Georgia DOT to solicit proposals.

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