In most Georgia communities, telecommunications as well as cable and video services are provided by private companies. A small number of cities also provide these services, but the trend in recent years has been for cities to sell their systems due to competition from private providers and the high cost of staying current with technology. Any city that is contemplating the possibility of providing telecommunications, cable and video services is advised to consult with an expert in the field. Organizations such as GMA
and private consultants can assist in evaluating municipal delivery systems. Care should be taken when choosing consultants to ensure they are completely objective.
If a municipal government is to evaluate the possibility of providing telecommunications or cable services to its community, certain steps should be taken to ensure success. Most importantly, the municipal and community leadership should evaluate why the city should provide these services. If strong support by the city’s elected officials exists, then the extensive evaluation necessary to make informed decisions can take place. A municipality must comply with the Georgia Fair Cable Competition Act (O.C.G.A. § 36-90-1) in determining whether to provide cable television service. Among other things, the law requires the preparation of a cost-benefit study and public hearings. If a city is considering operating its own telecommunications system in conjunction with, or independent of, cable television service, Georgia Public Service Commission
rules and procedures may apply. It should also be noted that specialized personnel may be needed to effectively operate a cable or telecommunications system.
As of July 1, 2008, telephone companies certified by the Public Service Commission are required by Georgia law to obtain local government approval to maintain and operate lines and facilities in municipal streets and municipal rights-of-way (ROW) (O.C.G.A § 46-5-1 et seq.). The law creates a standardized local application process and a standard form of “due compensation” to be paid by telephone companies. Due compensation comes from companies serving retail end-use customers located within the boundaries of a municipality and is set at three percent of local recurring revenues. If a telephone company does not have retail end-use customers located within municipal boundaries, the payment of due compensation will be in accordance with the rates established by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The law preempts and replaces the local franchising process. The municipality has only 15 business days to notify an applicant if the application does not contain the information required by the statute. GMA
can provide assistance in reviewing these applications.
Cable and Video Services
In 2007, the Georgia legislature adopted the Georgia Consumer Choice for Television Act (O.C.G.A. § 36-76-1 et seq.), which establishes an alternative statewide regulatory scheme for the provision of cable or video service (i.e., a “state franchise”). The law affects any community that has a cable operator, regardless of whether a local franchise agreement is in effect or has expired. Any provider of cable service can apply for a state franchise from the Georgia Secretary of State and “opt out” of the local agreement. New providers can enter the market under the provision of a state franchise instead of seeking a local franchise. Local franchising, however, remains an option under state law, but local negotiations will likely be influenced by the terms and 45-day application period for the issuance of a state franchise. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission
now requires local governments to process franchise applications from new providers in less than six months.
Cities that do not have staff experienced in telecommunications and cable franchise matters would be well served to retain an expert to provide assistance in the local franchise negotiation process and to evaluate whether the provider is satisfying its obligations under the local agreement or state franchise. GMA can provide this assistance as well as keep cities informed of federal and state regulations that impact their authority and control over municipal rights-of-way through its Telecommunications and Right-of-Way Management Program
Small Cell Antennas and 5G Technology
Elected officials should be aware of emerging technologies such as small cell antennas for 5G LTE networks that the telecommunication industry is deploying in municipal rights-of-way and will continue to focus on throughout the coming years. Small cell antennas are smaller modules that attach to infrastructure in the ROW. Although small cells represent an industry shift away from 100+ foot monopoles, the coverage range for small cells is much less than traditional poles, meaning municipal governments can anticipate more permit requests for small cells than previous technologies. Currently there are no state regulations in the Georgia Code for the deployment of small cell technologies. Permitting fees and ROW access fees are negotiated between the wireless telecommunication provider and the individual municipality and usually reflect the rates set by the Georgia Department of Transportation or other applicable model agreements. GMA encourages municipalities to seek counsel prior to entering into any contracts with companies for small cell deployment.