Georgia’s EMCs: Protecting our Members’ Investments

Tim Martin, President & CEO, Carroll EMC

By Tim Martin, President & CEO, Carroll EMC 

Since we were formed as a not-for-profit electric cooperative in 1936, Carroll EMC has been a source of growth and stability in West Georgia. We deliver reliable and affordable energy and we support our communities through charitable programs. Recently we announced an exciting new partnership with SyncGlobal Telecom which is funded through our investments plus a grant from the USDA ReConnect Program. This partnership will result in new or enhanced internet service to more than 7000 residents and more than 200 businesses in West Georgia. 

Although that partnership is just getting started, a debate is brewing about our utility poles that we own and maintain to carry electricity to your home and business. Not only do our poles allow us to keep your lights on, they serve as the infrastructure for cable companies to bring their services to your home. Across the state, instead of building their own poles and acquiring their own rights of way, cable companies pay a rental fee to attach their equipment to the utility poles owned by cooperatives, like Carroll EMC. The dollars you, our member-owners, pay in your monthly electric bill allow us to acquire, install and maintain those poles, for the benefit of the entire community. 

While we welcome cable companies to our poles, we need them to pay their fair share of the costs of owning, maintaining, and replacing these poles. 

They should not demand a government mandate to lower their infrastructure costs, while millions of Georgia citizens and businesses are forced to absorb the financial loss because cable does not want to pay its fair share. 

The rental fee that cable companies pay to attach to the utility pole is now the subject of debate at the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). On behalf of the more than 4 million EMC member-owners across Georgia, EMCs are asking the PSC to reject the national cable companies’ arguments for an unreasonably low pole attachment rate known as the FCC-rate, and set a fair-share rental rate. 

The cable industry has falsely claimed that the rental rates EMCs charge are a barrier to the expansion of rural broadband. The truth is the pole attachment rental rate represents a tiny fraction of broadband expansion costs. The real reason for the slow growth of rural broadband in Georgia is the lack of population density in rural communities. 

Despite these truths, some have used Georgia’s tragic digital divide, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, as an opportunity to create a false narrative. These national cable companies are now arguing that the PSC should mandate a lower rental rate to attach onto EMC utility poles. Sure, every business would like to score a bargain and lower their infrastructure costs. But why should the not-for-profit EMC member-owners, who have paid for these poles, be stuck with the bill to subsidize cable company profits? 

While we keep the lights on, Carroll EMC has shown our commitment to the expansion of broadband through our partnership with SyncGlobal Telecom. Also, more than 20 other EMCs in Georgia have formed or are exploring similar partnerships. EMCs will continue to be a source of growth and stability in our communities, and we’ll never stop protecting our member-owners’ financial investment in our cooperative. 

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