Internet service for rural Georgia could come from power companies

8/22/18 - Young Harris - Daniel Frizzell, the director of engineering at Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, left, explains the way in which Blue Ridge Mountain EMC provides internet services to rural areas with Jeremy Nelms, manager of Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, listening on Wednesday, August 22. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is based out of Young Harris, Georgia. Jenna Eason /

Credit: Jenna Eason

Credit: Jenna Eason

Power and phone companies could begin selling internet service in rural areas that lack high-speed access, according to bills introduced this week in the Georgia General Assembly.

The legislation would allow electric membership corporations and telephone cooperatives to also provide broadband internet service.

Expanding internet service to rural areas is a priority this year for many state legislators who are trying to revitalize communities that have been gradually losing businesses and population. They say high-speed internet is essential for companies, hospitals and schools.

About 16 percent of households in Georgia lack fast online access. Electricity cooperatives provide power to 4.5 million customers in Georgia, many of them outside metropolitan areas where broadband service is prevalent.

"By enabling EMCs to deploy these services to areas of the state that have limited or no broadband access at all, we can create a competitive marketplace," said state Sen. Steve Gooch, a Republican from Dahlonega who introduced Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 17.

On the House side, state Rep. Penny Houston, a Republican from Nashville, introduced House Bill 22 and House Bill 23 to allow phone cooperatives and electric membership corporations to provide internet.

In Other News