Commentary: How government can speed broadband access

This editorial comes from Kelly McCutchen, the President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and is re-posted with their permission. The GPPF is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. 


Kelly McCutchen, President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
Kelly McCutchen is a native of Ellijay, Georgia, and a graduate of Georgia Tech. He was Assistant Vice President in the Trust Department of Trust Company Bank in Atlanta before joining the Georgia Public Policy Foundation in 1993. Photo and caption courtesy GPPF.

Internet access is foundational in today’s economy. Lack of access can grind business to a halt and hobble critical services including health care, transportation and education. As a result, forward-thinking telecommunication policy is a priority in making Georgia a great place to live and economically competitive.

Georgia still has work to do to increase access to broadband but the news is good: Statewide, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports show, 87 percent of Georgians have access to wired broadband connections with speeds of 25 megabits per second (mbps) or higher and 93 percent have access to speeds of 10 mbps or higher.

A whopping 99 percent of Georgia’s population has access to wireless broadband of 10 mbps or higher. For perspective: Netflix recommends 3.0 mbps for high-definition video streaming.

In rural areas, 75 percent have access to wired speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. That is the 14th-highest rate in the nation, well above the US average of 61 percent and higher than all neighboring states except North Carolina’s 80 percent. (This does not include those who may have access to wireless broadband.)

To the best of our knowledge, every Georgia school, public health department and hospital is connected to wired broadband.

But too many Georgians still lack access to broadband. Plus, it is a constant challenge to keep up with the increasing need for greater data speeds, lower latency and new technologies. So what can government do to improve the situation?

One rule of economics is that if you tax something you get less of it. More specifically, economists largely agree that the sales tax should not apply to business inputs. That’s why Georgia wisely does not tax raw materials used in manufacturing and recently phased out the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing. It may be part of the reason for the surge of new manufacturing jobs in Georgia.

By contrast, Georgia assesses a sales tax on telecommunications network equipment investment; 20 states do not. Georgia consumers also see additional sales taxes and 911 charges on their bill. This adds up to a tax rate of 8.81 percent. Federal taxes raise it to 14.64 percent – and that’s not counting additional franchise fees imposed on wired services.

Clearly, the first way for state and local governments to encourage broadband investment and competition is to reduce or eliminate sales taxes, other taxes and fees.

Second, Georgia governments could make investing in telecom infrastructure easier by streamlining regulation.

The film industry provides a good analogy. Having movies or television shows filmed in your community can be exciting but disrupting. The Georgia Department of Economic Development created the Camera Ready Communities program to help streamline the process for production companies and provide a single point of contact for citizens and businesses potentially inconvenienced.

Georgia should encourage “Broadband Ready Communities.” Indiana and Wisconsin already have a similar process, which includes granting equal access to public rights-of-way, infrastructure and poles.

Local governments should also promote “dig once” programs, encouraging the placement of conduit along roads and inside buildings that can be used by multiple service providers to encourage competition. (The surge in road construction in Georgia provides an opportune time to lay down conduit.)

In rural areas with less population density, reducing or repealing taxes and streamlining the regulatory process may be insufficient to attract private investment. Public-private partnerships can help.

Part of that process involves demand aggregation: surveying residents and businesses to gauge demand for certain broadband speeds and price points, and determining what local governments are willing to invest to connect anchor institutions.

A competitive reverse auction can identify the most efficient bidder or, in a worst-case scenario, identify the remaining financial gap. Public investment can then be assessed.

Local governments should not try to operate their own network. Consultants who paint a rosy picture of municipal networks are often the only ones to come out on top while cities are left with fewer than expected customers, higher than expected expenses and long-term debt.

Creating and operating a broadband network is not a core function of government. In the worst case, the local government could hire a private operator to build out and operate the network.

Georgia’s broadband network has thrived thanks to market-oriented policies implemented over the past two decades. Filling rural gaps may require public-private partnerships to attract similar private investment. Broadband infrastructure investment and innovation are far more likely to occur when government steps aside instead of standing in the way.

Harpins Restaurant: high quality food for dine-in or takeaway

Harpin's Decor
The decor inside Harpin’s is relaxed and casual. Photo by Doug Deal.

A good quiche is hard to find in Macon. I’ve been to just about every restaurant in town at least once and I can only think of one that serves it, although I suspect others may. Perhaps it is because the one I can think of is so memorable.

Eggs are one of the most difficult things to perfect. A legend I once heard is that French cooking schools grade their incoming class by how well they can prepare eggs. If you graded the performance of most cooks, the proteins in their egg dishes has been robbed of all moisture as the heat forces them to squeeze out every molecule of water. Conversely some are under-cooked and almost soupy. The problem is that the window of done-ness is narrow for eggs and it takes a skilled cook or chef to find that sweet spot.

Three Cheese Quiche at Harpin's Restaurant.
The three cheese quiche at Harpin’s looks as good as it tastes. Photo by Doug Deal.

Paul Harpins has definitely found it in his quiches. When I decided to swing by, my plan was just to eat a light lunch, so I ordered their three cheese quiche which came with a side green salad and a cold pasta salad. The plate looked spectacular, and it is clear that they care about the presentation of their dishes. But even better was the taste and texture.

The quiche was firm, but not overly so. The combination of cheddar, Parmesan and feta blended perfectly into each savory bite. The crust was every so flaky and buttery


that you wished it surrounded the wedge so that there would be more of it. But you also cannot ignore the pasta and green salads which matched up well with the main entree. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a whole quiche from the takeaway bin for dinner that night.

Harpin's Chicken Salad
Harpin’s chicken salad is creamy and flavorful and great as a sandwich, alone or on crackers. Photo by Doug Deal.

The takeaway portion comes in a tin and I found heating it up for about 10-15 minutes in a 350 oven was sufficient. I really didn’t time it and just waited for the smell of the toasting cheese to make me hungry. Whatever you do, just warm it, as you do not want to continue to cook the egg or burn it. My five-year-old daughter Isobel liked it so much that she said they were the best eggs that she’s ever tasted. And I cook some great eggs myself. The experience has left us with a quiche craving and since we’ve made 2 ourselves.

But Harpin’s doesn’t only serve quiche, they have a wide range of classic dishes for a nice lunch, like chicken or seafood salad, brothy and creamy soups, and daily features. It’s best to follow them on Facebook to keep up to date.  Once a month they serve dinner as well. This month featured steak au poivre (pepper steak).

Harpin's Crab and Corn
The crab and corn soup, thick and hearty. Photo by Doug Deal.

On a subsequent visit, I had a chicken salad sandwich which was absolutely beautifully presented and the taste was just as high in quality. I upgraded the side to a bowl of crab and corn soup for a couple of extra dollars and it was also amazing.

Whether it’s a lunch or picking up a prepared takeaway dinner, Harpin’s serves high quality fair and never disappoints. You may pay a little more for lunch than at a run-of-the-mill place, but the quality, service, and friendliness make it a great value.

Wings and Wheels Auto Show coming October 8th

Classic Firebird at the Wings and Wheels car show at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins.
This classic Firebird made an appearance last year. Photo by Steven Hodges.

Do you like to burn rubber in classic muscle cars? Do you have a penchant for antique automobiles? Or do you just like to generally have fun and eat some good food? Well, the Wings and Wheels Car, Truck, and Motorcycle Show has you covered.

On Saturday, October 8, 2016, the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins will be hosting their 24 th annual automobile show. Here you will find cars, trucks, and motorcycles from all eras – antique cars, hot-rods, muscle cars, and modern cars. Basically, you can find an automobile from just about every decade.

There will be a live DJ playing all of your favorite tunes as you take in the spectacle. Winners of a 50/50 raffle will be periodically announced. There will also be plenty of food on hand as many local businesses set up both tents and food trucks for the event. Be sure to bring the kids too because Wings and Wheels is family friendly with plenty for children to do, including monster truck rides.

Classic T-Bird at the 2015 Wings and Wheels auto show.
This classic red Thunderbird was part of last year’s show. More cars like it will on display this year.

From the museum’s website, “This year’s Wings & Wheels show is a 1940’s themed event that will benefit the B-17 Flying Fortress restoration.  This year’s event will include food trucks, vendor tables, and to go with our 1940’s theme, we will have candy girls selling 50 / 50 raffle tickets.  If you would like to become a sponsor, or need more information about the show, please contact the Museum at (478) 923-6600.”

Along with the show, there’s also a poker run from 6:00 pm to 6:45 pm. You don’t have to pre-register for the event, but you can fill out the form ahead of time by visiting their website. Poker hands are $10 each, with cash prizes of $75, $50, and $25.

If you have a car, truck, or motorcycle you’d like to show off, registration begins at 8:00 am and runs ‘til 11:00 am, with awards being presented at 3:45 pm. The Museum of Aviation is located at 1942 Heritage Blvd., Robins AFB, GA.

Commentary: Tearing Down The Walls: Restoring Ballot Access

This post comes from State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), who has been a strong advocate of the Georgia taxpayer and defender of the rights of citizens, even when it runs counter to the wishes of the leadership of his own party. In this article, he explains ballot access and why it is long overdue for reform.

Commentary: Tearing Down The Walls: Restoring Ballot Access
By Senator Josh McKoon
State Senator Josh McKoon
State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). Photo credit Georgia Senate.

Georgia has been recognized for having the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country. As a Republican State Senator, all I had to do this year to access the ballot was to sign a form and tender a certified check for my qualifying fee. Due to a recent change in the law, if I had wanted to run as an Independent, all I would have had to do was declare that and pay my qualifying fee. But for any Georgian who wants to run for office that is not already an elected official, they must not only file the qualifying paperwork but also gather a threshold number of signatures, one percent (1%) of registered voters for statewide ballot access and five percent (5%) of registered voters for ballot access for other offices.

By the way, it is not as simple as someone signing the form. They must sign the form, provide their address, their county of residence and the date they signed the form. Each sheet, with 15 signature locations, must be circulated by one and only one person. A separate person from the “circulator,” as he or she is called, must witness and notarize the signature of the circulator. If the necessary information is outside the boxes provided, even if complete, it may be thrown out by elections officials.
Routinely, independent candidates, who manage to accept the daunting challenge of gathering signatures and submitting them to elections officials, receive a letter stating they haven’t submitted enough valid signatures. They are not told which signatures are invalid, or even why they have been invalidated. To contest such a finding a would-be Independent candidate needs to hire a lawyer to have a chance to successfully navigate the system to get a favorable decision.
Just this year I represented three such candidates, along with my colleague Bin Minter, who merely wanted to have the chance to serve their fellow citizens in county level offices. After dozens of hours of work and two separate hearings, these three candidates are on the ballot, for the moment. One of them may need us again to contest an appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals so votes for him will count when they are cast on November 8.
Over the years there is one question I have to ask about all of this: why? In an era of unrivaled apathy among our population, why on earth would we maintain barriers to people that want to get involved with their government?
The answer is simple enough – elected officials benefit from the current system. Less competition means less of a threat to their next re-election bid. Conservatives are always talking about the free market and how competition makes everyone better. Is there some exception when it comes to the free marketplace of ideas and officeholders? I think not.
In addition to candidates that wish to run on an Independent line, Georgia law has made it incredibly difficult for third parties to obtain ballot access. Prior to 1943, a party needed only to submit a slate of candidates to get a ballot line. Now the byzantine requirements are so burdensome that a judge recently held the ballot access law unconstitutional as applied to Presidential candidates.
If, in my case, I believe the Republican Party has the best policy ideas, why should I be afraid of running against a Constitution Party, Green Party, or other third party candidate? Unless I am afraid I cannot persuade a majority of voters that our ideas are the best, there is no reason for me to fear competition. And increasing the number of voices in our political debate means more ideas get heard and that we have a greater quality of discussion over a larger number of topics. This is good and healthy for a democratic process.
The only argument ballot access restriction defenders can really make is that Independent candidates do not have to run in a primary and so are guaranteed general election ballot access in a system that does not restrict them while party candidates must win a primary.
So here is my solution: Allow everyone to run for any office upon filing of the paperwork and submission of their qualifying fee. Have a “jungle primary” where everyone runs together in one election instead of having multiple party primaries.
This also eliminates another problem when voters are interested in voting for one person in one party primary and another person in another party primary. They cannot do that under current law but having one unified primary election would resolve that while also eliminating the Independent advantage as to access to the general election ballot. The top two vote-getters in the “jungle primary” would advance to the general election in November.
Georgia should want to lead the nation in welcoming diverse voices to the table when it comes to running for office. Eliminating onerous ballot access requirements is not only the right thing to do, it will lead to a more robust debate about public policy and help insure in the long term better solutions to the challenges facing our state are thoroughly discussed and vetted. It is time to tear down the walls to ballot access and give Georgia voters the same robust choices at the ballot box that they already enjoy elsewhere in our free market economy.

Christ Chapel Warner Robins hosting The Mix Open Mic night October 5th

Are you a youth who can rock the mic? Well The Mix’s Open Mic Night may be for you! On Wednesday, October 5th, Christ Chapel Warner Robins will be hosting an open mic night at 6:00 pm. The event will be part of The Mix’s current series. Headed by youth pastor T Rousey, The Mix is a ministry geared toward ages 12 to 18. The group meets every Wednesday evening on the campus of Christ Chapel Warner Robins.

Christ Chapel Musicians
Musicians perform at Christ Chapel Warner Robins. Photo courtesy Yelp.

Open Mic Night will be open to all middle and high school students. Even if you don’t want to perform, you can still come out and be entertained. There are only two rules listed for this event: no booing and everything must glorify God.

According to the CCWR website,You think you know how to rock the crowd? Think you could out sing Mariah or rap better than Drake? Maybe you can play the kazoo? Or maybe you and your crew can out dance any dance crew in the country? Well here’s the bottom line… If you’ve got a talent, we’ve got a mic! On October 5th The Mix is rolling out the red carpet because it’s time for you to make your grand entrance! Whether you sing, dance, or have the spoken-word thing down, this is your moment in the spotlight! If you’re a Middle or High School student email youthccwr@gmail.com to sign up. Even if you’re not performing that night you want to bring yourself and your crew because The Mix is hosting Open Mic Nite and it’s going down October 5th at 6:00pm and you won’t want to miss it!

Christ Chapel Warner Robins is located at 2288 Moody Road, in Warner Robins, GA. If you have further questions about Open Mic Night, contact Christ Chapel Warner Robins at 478-922-0161 or email youthccwr@gmail.com.

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