Efforts to expand broadband internet service in underserved areas of rural Georgia got a boost last week when the Georgia Public Service Commission voted to lower the fees on access to some power poles.

The PSC lowered the rate the state's EMCs can charge internet companies to have access to put an internet line on their poles to $1 per pole in underserved areas. The usual rate is over $27 per pole.

The savings from that are designed to incentive internet companies to run broadband into underserved, less populated rural areas.

But the move falls short of what internet companies wanted, which was for access to all power poles even in dense areas to be lowered to $1 per pole per year. The PSC vote was to grant the lower price for six years.

To be eligible for the lower pole access price, an internet provider will have to offer a minimum of 25/3 Mbps.

A lack of access to broadband has long been a complaint in rural areas. That became even more clear this year as many schools and businesses moved online due to the Covid pandemic. Many rural families, however, found they didn't have enough bandwidth to do school work or business work online. And as telemedicine has also grown during the pandemic, some rural citizens find they don't have the speed to support online visits with their doctors.

While the lower price for pole access might help spur greater internet access, there are other barriers in rural areas beyond just stringing lines on poles.

The lack of housing and business density in many rural areas means that internet firms have less financial return per mile than they do in more densely-populated areas. Geography in some areas is also a problem, especially in mountains.

Some local startups have attempted to fill the gaps in rural service across the country and the move to lower the access cost to a pole might help those firms more than Comcast, Windstream and other large firms that dominate the broadband market.

Many rural areas in Northeast Georgia do have some internet access, but it is often slower than the 25 Mbps rate.

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