By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)
ATLANTA — On April 26, 2019, Governor Brian P. Kemp held a bill signing ceremony for several bills in Senate District 51. I was proud to join him and several members of our community as he signed bills that I sponsored or carried during the 2019 session into law – Senate Bills 2, 17, 66 and House Bill 454. Since I have been elected into office, one of my main priorities has been expanding broadband access to all Georgians, particularly parts of the state like our own district where citizens have limited or no access to reliable internet.
With Senate Bills 2, 17 and 66 becoming law, we are one step closer to bringing reliable broadband access to all parts of our state. Senate Bill 2 allows electric membership corporations (EMCs) to provide broadband services to their customers. The EMCs are permitted to use existing easements to provide or expand broadband access. Senate Bill 17, also known as the “Rural Telephone Cooperative Act,” allows telephone cooperatives in Metter, Newington, Rentz and Statesboro to provide internet services and broadband to their customers. These four co-ops provide either direct or indirect service to more than eight counties and 10 cities. Senate Bill 66, or the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act,” allows 5G companies to collocate small wireless facilities (antennas) on existing or new poles through a standardized application process. Under SB 66, the use of public rights of way by wireless providers to deploy broadband is also addressed and clarified.
These three bills are all part of the broadband package I am proud to see become law and look forward to the positive impact it will have on all Georgians within workforce development, education and telemedicine. In addition to this legislation, I want to commend our Governor and colleagues in the Georgia General Assembly for appropriating $2 million to the Department of Community Affairs for the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative. While we made positive strides during this session with this legislation and funding, there is more work to be done not only on the state level, but also with our partners in Washington.
I want to commend the Federal Communications Commission on their announcement that $20.4 billion will be allocated through the rural broadband fund – “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund”– to ensure that four million homes and small businesses have connection to “up to gigabit-speed.” According to the FCC, “more than 24 million people lacked broadband access to their homes” in 2018. This is unacceptable and I will work with my friends on every level of government to ensure that we continue the fight to expand broadband access to all Georgians. In a day and age when we depend on access to the internet not only for entertainment but more importantly for education, economic development, working remotely and many other critical things, it is imperative more than ever that all our citizens have not only access but a reliable way to communicate and engage with their fellow citizens, employers and family around the world.
Lastly, House Bill 454, which I carried in the Senate, was signed on April 26, 2019, and will establish use and safety rules for three different classes of electric assisted bicycles. The classes are determined by the equipment used to provide assistance to the bike rider and the max speed the devices reach.
This issue is very important with the increase of our citizens utilizing new mobility equipment such as e-scooters to get around. While it is important to have options, we must ensure that everyone knows how to properly utilize these technologies while also being safe. Along with HB 454 becoming law, we will further study the issue of e-scooters and innovative mobility during the interim. I sponsored Senate Resolution 479 – Senate Study Committee on Evaluating E-scooters and Other Innovative Mobility Options for Georgians – so that we can thoroughly review and study what is needed to determine how local governments, state agencies and universities can work with companies providing innovative mobility technologies.
If you have any questions about anything related to broadband access or the other two bills signed on April 26th, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will continue to update you over the course of the next few weeks on the status of bills on the Governor’s desk. The deadline for signing, vetoing or laws becoming effective without a signature is this week on May 12, 2019. While session is over, please remember that I am always here to be of assistance and our office door is always open.
Sen. Steve Gooch serves as the Senate Majority Whip. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.