Broadband access will be expanded to some residents across Carroll County next month by two telecommunications companies and an electric membership cooperative.
Earlier this week, Comcast announced it has completed its rural broadband expansion buildout to more than 2,500 homes and businesses in Haralson County, including Tallapoosa and Waco.
In that same announcement, Comcast said it will finish a buildout project in Carroll County in mid-January, bringing service to 7,500 residents and businesses in three cities of the county.
When Comcast is finished, broadband access will be available to some residents around Mount Zion, Whitesburg, and Roopville. This is part of an almost $9 million investment by the company, company officials said.
Meanwhile, the CEO of Bremen internet service provider SyncGlobal Telecom announced in November it will begin the first phase of bringing broadband to some residents across Carroll and Heard counties as early as next month, a project being done in partnership with Carroll Electric Membership Cooperative.
Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations at Comcast, said residents and businesses within the company’s new Carroll County footprint will be able to use the provider’s suite of communications services. The company’s range of offerings spans from a $9.95 a month Internet Essentials package to a two-gigabit service.
In an email to the Times-Georgian this week, Horwitz said the process of bringing service to customers in Carroll County will begin on Jan. 7 and will last just under two weeks.
The company’s xFi services allow customers to have high-speed internet, while xFi Complete offers unlimited data and Wi-Fi coverage throughout the home. Five lines of Xfinity Mobile phone service is included with this internet package, with no activation or line access fees, the company said in their announcement this week.
“Earlier this year, we committed to extending our advanced network to rural west Georgia, with the goal of bridging the digital divide at a critical time,” said Jason Gumbs, regional senior vice president of Comcast, said in this week’s announcement. “I’m proud to say we not only achieved this, but we did it ahead of schedule. We are poised to continue this important progress across Georgia if the state moves to more reasonable pole rates.”
Telecom companies such as Comcast are ready and willing to invest millions of dollars extending broadband service into rural Georgia, according to the Capitol Beat news service. But they say they cannot afford to do so unless the public service commission rolls back fees the state’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) charge for attaching broadband technology to utility poles.
SyncGlobal, along with Carroll EMC, also announced in June a plan to invest $12.5 million to construct a fiber network in the extreme southern part of Carroll County and northwestern Heard County. SyncGlobal received that money as a grant from the USDA.
A federal program called Broadband ReConnect is providing matching funds to the joint project between the two companies. Coupled with matching funds between SyncGlobal and Carroll EMC, the initial capital investment will amount to almost $20 million for the first stage of deploying broadband.
The electric utility and internet service provider plan to expand broadband to about 7,300 residents and more than 200 businesses in parts of southern Carroll and northwestern Heard counties.
“We want everyone to have broadband, but we decided to focus on the areas with the greatest need,” SyncGlobal CEO Kyle Williamson said during a Chamber of Commerce event in November. “The hardest to serve from a cost perspective, the hardest to serve from a buildout perspective, the hardest to make a reality.”
However, these expansions will serve only some of the west Georgia residents in need of better access to the internet. While many city residents can connect to high-speed and reliable broadband with little problem, those living in rural areas may still be reliant on DSL service, an older form of internet connection.
Williamson and Tim Martin, the president and CEO of Carroll EMC, recently said there are barriers to expanding broadband to every resident, such as costs and a lack of population density in some communities.
Williamson said in November it is “very costly” to extend broadband to some homeowners, noting the cost per mile can be thousands of dollars without adding regulatory fees, the cost of labor, and the equipment needed to expand broadband access.
Comcast has proposed 10 additional rural broadband projects in Georgia, pending the adoption of pole attachment reform, which is currently under consideration with the state Public Service Commission.
The General Assembly passed legislation in June aiming to use Georgia’s 41 EMCs as the vehicle for addressing the problem of rural residents having inadequate internet connectivity.
House Bill 244 is a follow-up to a bill that lawmakers enacted last year, authorizing these cooperatives to enter the broadband business for the first time. Under this legislation, the Public Service Commission will decide how much EMCs can charge telecom providers broadband attachments to their utility poles.
The Public Service Commission will decide this month the costs and conditions required of broadband providers to attach to utility poles controlled by electric membership cooperatives.
Martin said in an October editorial that instead of building their own poles and acquiring their own rights of way, cable companies pay a rental fee to attach their equipment to the utility poles owned by cooperatives. He wrote these companies “need to pay their fair share of the costs” to own, maintain and replace these poles.
“They should not demand a government mandate to lower their infrastructure costs, while millions of Georgia citizens and businesses are forced to absorb the financial loss because cable does not want to pay its fair share,” he wrote.
Cooperatives are asking the service commission, on behalf of their four million members statewide, to reject the cable companies’ arguments for a low pole attachment rate known as the Federal Communications Commission rate and set a fair-share rental rate, Martin said.
“The cable industry has falsely claimed that the rental rates EMCs charge are a barrier to the expansion of rural broadband. The truth is the pole attachment rental rate represents a tiny fraction of broadband expansion costs,” he said. “The real reason for the slow growth of rural broadband in Georgia is the lack of population density in rural communities.”
Capitol Beat News Service contributed reporting to this article.