Georgia Not Waiting for Federal Reform

Published June 1, 2006

Georgia has joined a list of states that are not waiting around for the federal government to deregulate communications policy. Georgia passed legislation in April that effectively removes regulation of broadband, VoIP, and wireless service.

The Competitive Emerging Communications Technologies Act of 2006, introduced by state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, deregulates wireless, broadband, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, effectively letting market forces direct service packages, pricing, and competition for these next-generation telecommunications services in Georgia. The bill passed the Georgia Senate in January by a vote of 46 to 3 and cleared the House by a vote of 157 to 4 in March. Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law April 28.

The act, short but sweeping, declares “it is in the public interest to encourage deployment of the emerging communications technologies of broadband service, [VoIP], and wireless service by expressly removing any power the Georgia Public Service Commission [PSC] may have to set the rates and the terms and conditions for the offering of such services within Georgia.”

The crux of the actual enactment states, “The (Georgia) Public Service Commission shall not have any jurisdiction, right, power, authority, or duty to impose any requirement or regulation relating to the setting of rates or terms and conditions for the offering of broadband service, VoIP, or wireless service.”

The legislation further declares, “That market-based competition is the best mechanism for the selection and setting of such rates, terms, and conditions for such emerging communications technologies and to encourage the adoption and use of such services by Georgia consumers.”

The legislation recognizes that in a competitive environment, monopoly-era rules force new entrants to negotiate through numerous state and local processes, inhibiting rapid market entry or the desire to offer service in Georgia at all. In exempting broadband, wireless, and VoIP from PSC regulation, Georgia has dramatically reformed its communications policy in accordance with today’s competitive marketplace.

Recognizing the role and power of consumers in shaping competitive services, the bill asserts, “Georgia’s consumers need timely and accurate information as to the actual cost and levels of delivered service in order to make informed market-based choices among competing offerings of such emerging communications technologies.”

Seabaugh first came to the Senate in 2000 and was elected as Majority Whip in 2004. With the passage of his bill, Georgia joins Florida, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia as states that have recognized the traditional monopoly-oriented regulatory structure no longer applies to today’s competitive technology environment.

Barry M. Aarons ([email protected]) is senior research fellow for the Institute for Policy Innovation.