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Georgia’s Rural Areas Get Big Bucks for Internet, but Do Taxpayers Lose Out?

The feds have dispersed almost $400 billion to several states, including Georgia, to connect rural areas to high-speed Internet, but one watchdog group says taxpayers have reason to worry.

But why worry? These Government Owned Networks (GONs), after all, will start up in areas that are unserved, meaning people who live there have zero private high-speed Internet Service Providers (ISPs). But there’s more to digest. These GONs will also open in areas that are underserved, meaning they will fight for customers in areas where private providers already offer the same service. And that begs the question: Is it the government’s place to compete against private businesses? 

Members of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) warn that when it comes to constructing high-speed Internet networks, government bureaucrats cannot replicate the same quality of work that the private sector already does. Customers and taxpayers alike lose when government bureaucrats shut out participation from private ISPs.

TPA spokesman Johnny Kampis said members of his organization have analyzed the effects of GONs for many years. 

“To some degree the genie is out of the bottle as far as spending a lot of money on infrastructure. It is clear that both Democrats and Republicans want to spend taxpayer money to improve broadband infrastructure, and we don’t deny the importance of people being able to access the internet. Our big issue is we want to promote more of the private sector building out that infrastructure versus GONs,” Kampis said.

“If governments want to get involved then at least partner with the private sector because they have more of the knowhow and the resources to do it. We’ve written a lot about the failures of GONs, and it is clear that that money is better put into the hands of the private sector. Another thing that governments can do to help usher that along is cut red tape, cut regulations, and streamline permitting processes.”

Among only a few of the projects that federal officials recently announced for Georgia:

• The Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CCPF), according to the U.S. Treasury Department, will provide Georgia with $259.8 million to provide Internet to the state’s rural-and low- and moderate-income areas. 

• The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will provide Georgia with $6.4 million in “Internet for All” grants to deploy high-speed Internet networks under the Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative.  

• U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials will spend $759 million of taxpayer money on 48 high-speed Internet projects in 24 states. USDA officials did not respond to requests for comment, but the Georgia Recorder reported in October that seven middle Georgia counties will receive $36 million to “connect  21,289 people, 569 businesses, 323 farms and 29 educational facilities.” Those counties are Bibb, Crawford, Macon, Marion, Monroe, Talbot, and Taylor counties.

“There are a lot of different programs and a lot of money flying around, and that is why we are focused on protecting taxpayers,” Kampis said.

“There is so much money going around for this stuff. If you are going to spend this kind of money, then you have to get it right.”

Kampis said GONs are often poorly-run, don’t perform well, don’t earn the promised take rate, and “don’t have the know-how to really do what they said they are going to do.”