ACE Act Implementation to Incentivize Broadband Services

January 17, 2019

This article appeared in the Januray 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
O n May 7, 2018, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 402, the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act.” This legislation outlines a multi-agency strategy to provide for planning, incentives and deployment of broadband services to unserved areas throughout the state. The key agencies tasked with developing a multi-faceted approach to statewide broadband planning and implementation include the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) and Georgia’s State Properties Commission (GSPC). These key agencies form the ACE Project Team.

The legislation contains four major components:
  • DCA is developing a voluntary certification program to recognize local governments as “Broadband Ready Communities” if the local government adopts ordinances or policies promoting jurisdiction-wide broadband deployment and streamlined processes to grant quicker access to the public rights-of-way.
  • DCA will implement the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative to allow for state funding to service providers offering broadband in unserved or underserved areas. The program will consist of a minimum of five rounds of grants, one per year for five years.
  • GDEcD along with the DCA is creating a designation for “Georgia Broadband Ready Community Site” for facilities or sites that can support at least one gigabit of service.
  • GDOT, in consultation with GTA, will implement a long-term policy approach to broadband deployment in interstate highways and state roads’ rights-of-way through various approaches including public-private partnerships.
 
Since the ACE Act was signed into law, significant progress has been made. SB 402 created a new Broadband Program, which resides at Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs. The mission of this new program is to provide planning, deployment and incentives for broadband services and other emerging communications technologies throughout the state. In July, DCA hired the state’s first Executive Director of the Broadband Program, Deana Perry.
 
Currently, the ACE Project Team is in what Perry describes as “R&D.” The ACE Project Team will complete a statewide broadband plan by June 30 and will launch the new grant program by July 1. DCA and GTA have engaged the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government to develop a statewide baseline broadband map, which identifies unserved areas.
 
One provision of the ACE Act requires the incorporation of a Broadband Services Element in the Local Comprehensive Plan of each local government in the state. This new legal requirement necessitates amendments to the minimum standards that DCA uses to implement the statute. DCA intends to phase this requirement in over time as local governments are otherwise due for regularly scheduled updates of their comprehensive plans. DCA has completed updates to the state’s Minimum Planning Standards, and new requirements to address broadband went into effect on Oct. 1, 2018.
 
Specifically, each local government must include in its Local Comprehensive Plan an action plan for the promotion of the deployment of broadband services by broadband service providers into unserved areas within its jurisdiction.
 
As work progresses on the ACE Act, what can cities do to get ready?
“Make sure you have a good story to tell,” said Perry. “Evaluate assets in your community and identify needs—think about how broadband impacts small business, healthcare and education. Look for partnerships and develop a case for collaborative approaches. Now is a great time for cities to compile an inventory of local assets, including potential stakeholders in your community, that could serve as partners to develop a strategy for meeting broadband needs. What infrastructure is available? Who are your providers? Identify cost sharing potential.”
 
Cities may want to conduct a feasibility study to identify partners who should be included in a broadband planning effort. By going through the planning process now, local governments will be in a good position to qualify for grant funds. Perry also suggests that cities take part in ongoing mapping efforts by contacting GTA to verify addresses within their jurisdictions. The contact at GTA is Bill Price bill.price@gta.ga.gov.
 
For additional information about multi-agency efforts to implement the ACE Act and what each local government should include in its Local Comprehensive Plan, contact Deana Perry deana.perry@dca.ga.gov.
 
GMA Examines Factors that Should be Considered in Road Grant Allocations
 
Georgia’s Department of Transportation (GDOT) planning director annually allocates grants to local governments for road resurfacing and other projects through the Local Maintenance Improvement Grant (LMIG) program. While the total amount of LMIG funding has increased since the passage of the transportation tax legislation in 2015, GMA believes the formula remains skewed to favor jurisdictions with a large number of centerline road miles over economic hubs with multiple lane miles, employment centers and congested areas.
 
“Because the current formula does not adequately consider where traffic is, state LMIG dollars are disproportionately allocated to areas of lesser relative populations rather than to areas in need of increased road capacity for congestion relief.” said GMA Director of Governmental Relations Tom Gehl.
 
Approximately 107,469 miles or 86 percent of the roads in Georgia are maintained by local governments. GMA would like to work with the GDOT planning director and General Assembly to re-examine the formula so that the state’s interest in reducing congestion and improving accessibility to job centers is carried through the LMIG grants given to local governments.
 
The Current Formula
LMIG Formula Factor = (Local Gov. Pop./State Pop.) x 1/3 +
(Local Gov. Mileage./Total State Mileage) x 2/3.
 
State law gives the GDOT planning director wide latitude in setting the LMIG formula, stating that the formula should include “considerations of paved and unpaved lane miles and vehicle miles traveled and may include population, employment and local funding matches available, as well as other factors as may be determined by the division and the director.”
 
“Since the formula uses centerline miles instead of lane miles, the effect of this is that one mile of a one-lane dirt road with minimal use weighs just as much in the formula as one mile of a busy, congested five-lane thoroughfare,” said Gehl.

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