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Monday, January 23, 2012 - 1:33pm

Bill Targets Public Internet Service

A Republican lawmaker wants private companies to compete on a level playing field with cities and counties that offer Internet broadband service. Sen. Chip Rogers of Woodstock says government-operated service providers have an unfair advantage because they can run the systems at a loss.

Sen. Rogers has filed a bill that would require municipalities to hold referendums before launching high-speed Internet service.

The Republican lawmaker says cities such as Tifton and Marietta have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on failed Internet service providers.

Rogers says his bill wouldn’t keep towns from offering the service.

“They can go and set up the broadband service but if they recognize it’s going to lose money they need to be very honest with the taxpayers and go to referendum and ask them if this broadband plan, which they think is so important for their community, is worth exactly what they plan to spend on it,” he said at a press conference.

Tifton officials say the city became an Internet Service Provider in 1997 because no private company would offer broadband service then. City Clerk Rona Martin said it established the service to attract businesses and help existing entities such as the local hospital, not to make a profit.

Martin said the service is now defunct but it proved its worth because now private companies offer broadband service in Tifton.

Democratic lawmakers say broadband access is critical for rural areas of the state. Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus says he hasn’t seen the bill yet but he says it might expand broadband access, which would be positive.

“In my mind, when you start talking about broadband, I want to use the broadest equation that you possibly can, making sure more people have access and more people have the opportunity to afford broadband,” he said.

Rogers, the Senate Majority Leader, says the bill has bi-partisan support.