Legislature approves bills to improve internet, cell service in Georgia and protect kids

The Georgia House returned to the Capitol last week for the fifth week of the 2019 legislative session. We’re continuing to work hard to pass meaningful legislation for the state, and although it’s hard to imagine, by the time you’re reading this column, we will be almost halfway through the session.

Internet access in rural Georgia

We kicked off the week on Monday with the unanimous passage of House Bill 23 to expand internet access in rural Georgia. HB 23 is a product of the House Rural Development Council’s recommendations and would allow electric membership corporations (EMCs) and their affiliates to provide broadband services.

It’s a much needed bill which clarifies the role of EMC’s and is especially important for our area.

HB 23 prohibits cross-subsidization between an EMC’s broadband service and its electric or natural gas services, and it would also require that yearly audits be conducted to ensure that cross-subsidization does not take place. Lastly, the bill would prohibit EMCs from disconnecting broadband service if a customer fails to pay their electric or gas bills or vice versa.

Subsequently, if HB 23 is signed into law, EMCs could apply for federal grants and loans through the USDA’s Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program), which total $600 million to aid improvement efforts for access to quality broadband services.

Broadband is essential to almost every factor of economic development, and this legislation is a tremendous step in the right direction to help spur economic development in rural Georgia and make certain we have the same opportunities in our rural areas as we do in the rest of the state. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s a great first step.

Cell tech in public rights-of-way

In addition to passing legislation to improve broadband access in our rural communities, the House also passed a bill this week that would provide a pathway to deploy small cell and 5G technology in public rights-of-way in Georgia.

Over the past several months, the House has worked with advocates, industry experts and local authorities to create a bill that would support the growing consumer-driven demand for high-speed wireless access while also preserving the ability of our local governments to protect historic districts and community aesthetics.

Due to the overwhelming concentration of cellular data in our urban areas, House Bill 184, or the Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act, would allow wireless service providers to install “stealthy” small-cell wireless towers throughout cities to offer greater wireless coverage. Starting in urban areas, this groundbreaking technology would eventually deploy 5G streaming services to all of Georgia using small boxes that are attached to utility poles in public areas, providing coverage up to a 1,000 feet in any direction of the poles.

HB 184 would create a streamlined permitting process for small cell technology, establish application and attachment fees and define the rules of installation, repairs or improvements to the towers that will house this cutting-edge technology.

This legislation would allow our state to move forward in deploying small cell wireless technology on a larger scale to further enhance economic opportunities across our state.

School bus passing law

Probably the most important measure we will take up all year was a corrective action.

Senate Bill 25 clarifies existing law regarding when drivers can or cannot pass stopped school buses. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and clarifies uncertain language that was enacted as a result of House bill 978 that passed last year that allowed drivers to pass a stopped school bus when traveling in the opposite direction when a turn lane is present. This caused confusion on the roadways and created safety issues for our school children.

SB 25 reduces this risk and protects our school bus riders by making it clear that drivers can only pass a stopped school bus on the other side of the road when the roadways are divided by a grass median, unpaved area or physical barrier.

Governor Kemp recognized that quick action was needed to resolve this issue and signed SB 25 into law on Friday, February 15, and the bill went into immediate effect to protect the lives of our children.

Session ends April 2

The rest of the legislative session will be long and time demanding as we try to make certain that we finish out our agenda by our adjournment date of April 2nd.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding any legislation up for consideration in the House, or any input on how I may better serve you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I can be reached at 404 651 7737, or by email at terry.rogers@house.ga.gov. As always, you’re my top priority and I want to thank you for allowing me to represent you!


About the author:  Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) represents the citizens of District 10, which includes portions of Habersham and White counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2011 and currently serves as the Governor’s Floor Leader and the Vice Chairman of the Economic Development & Tourism and State Planning & Community Affairs committees. He also serves as Vice Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and the Defense & Veterans Affairs, Regulated Industries, Human Relations & Aging, and Rules committees.

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