As the Georgia legislature considers HB 282, a bill that will restrict local governments from investing in telecommunications networks, we are continuing coverage of the communities that will be harmed by passage of the legislation.
Should the restrictions become law, existing networks will not be able to expand. No expansion means fewer opportunities to reap the benefits that flow naturally from community networks. While this means few residents will receive access in places like Thomasville and Moultrie, it also means fewer businesses will receive access in places where networks exclusively serve commercial customers and government offices.
LaGrange's IT Director, Alan Slaughenhaupt, told us a little about its municipal network that began in 1996. The community decided to build its own network when no private provider would. The first goal was to get the K-12 schools connected. Bonds funded the network build out and were paid off within five years. At the time, the city partnered with ISN (Later Earthlink) to get the schools connected. LaGrange now partners with Charter Communications to bring connectivity to students.
The LaGrange network now connects hospitals, most city, county, and state government facilities, and provides connectivity for businesses. Alan describes how a T1 connection cost local businesses $2,300 per month in 1996. Now, thanks to competition created by the community owned network, local businesses can pay just $100 for a connection with better capacity. The municipal network serves about 400 commercial customers.
Alan explained that the automaker Kia moved a manufacturing facility near LaGrange in 2009 that used Just-In-Time inventory control. It needed a high-speed connection between the main plant and suppliers that LaGrange could deliver.
The move created 2,500 new jobs at the factory, each paying between $14.90 and $23.50 per hour. Along with the positions in the factory, came 3,000 auto-related jobs with suppliers located near the facility. Today, Kia has moved its main manufacturing to a different location and a different network, but its suppliers still use the LaGrange network. The Kia story is only one of many ways the network has contributed to LaGrange's economy since 1996.
Because of the competitive rates, the personal customer service, and quick responses to network problems, businesses continue to seek out LaGrange network services. Alan says there is no advertising and the network continues to grow. It has never been in the red. This network, like many others operated on a local level, is successfully serving the community.
Like other community leaders we talk to about HB 282, Alan fears the long term result if the bill becomes law. The community of LaGrange has not fit into the bill's definition of "unserved" in years, which means expansion would end. Without the ability to grow, Alan feels it would only be a matter of time before the network would eventually end. Economic development, useful connections for the schools, libraries and hospitals, and substantial public savings would also end.
We encourage you to contact Georgia Legislators to voice your opposition.