Speaker of the House David Ralston and AJC political columnist Jim Galloway speak on the panel during the AJC Politically Georgia's "Politics and Pints" at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta on Thursday, January 25, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Ga. House Speaker Ralston wants rural internet, not relocation payments

House Speaker David Ralston is emphasizing efforts to bring fast internet to rural Georgia as a key part of legislators’ plan to revitalize sparsely populated areas.

But Ralston also said an idea of paying people to move to rural communities isn’t likely to advance in the Georgia General Assembly. Legislators had proposed income tax incentives to encourage people to relocate.

Ralston, speaking Thursday to a crowd at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta, said state representatives will introduce bills this year to support internethealth care and shortline railroads in rural Georgia.

Broadband is really foundational to so many of the things we're talking about, whether it's health care, telemedicine, education or business,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said during the Politically Georgia discussion sponsored by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You’re going to see a number of approaches out there, so what ultimately is approved this year remains to be seen.”

About 16 percent of Georgians lack access to high-speed internet service.

Ralston said internet service could be extended to rural areas by making it easier for internet companies to use power poles. 

Ralston didn’t specify details, but his House Rural Development Council recommended in December that the state standardize fees charged by electric membership cooperatives and Georgia Power for internet companies to use their poles.

He downplayed other proposals to build out internet. He said an idea by Sen. Steve Gooch, R- Dahlonega, to run fiber optic cables along Georgia’s interstate system would be expensive.

He didn’t discuss the concept of charging a telecommunications tax to subsidize construction of internet lines in the country. Legislators on the House Rural Development Council had suggested the state could raise money by taxing satellite TV, internet phones and possibly internet streaming services.

As for the proposal of income tax breaks for moving to rural Georgia, Ralston said it needs more work and analysis.

“You don't have to drill down very far to see that there's going to be some controversial discussion about that,” Ralston said. “What I think you’re going to hear is that people who have lived there all their life, they’re going to say, ‘Well, I didn't get one, and I was here when times were tough.’”

He said legislators’ underlying goal is to bring more professionals and jobs to rural areas. Additional bills focused on rural economic development will likely be proposed next year.

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