BILL EXPANDING BROADBAND TO RURAL COMMUNITIES SIGNED INTO LAW

Broadband Signing

kay ivey

Alabama took a major step in expanding its broadband internet service in rural communities across the state this week.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Rural Broadband Initiative into law Thursday. Started by the legislature last year, the bill will expand an existing grant program under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund.

“Each day the uses for the internet grow more dynamic,” Ivey said. “To put it simply, Alabama has needed to do more to offer our students, our hospitals and our small business and our communities high-speed internet.”

The $30 million initiative allows the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to expand the grant program for broadband providers in rural and under-served areas. It is solely up to the electric companies to install, operate and maintain broadband systems using their easements.

“They can provide broadband services directly or through an affiliate,” State Rep. Randall Shedd said. “The electric provider has the option to offer its easements to a third party who would provide the broadband services they would not be allowed to require the residents to purchase the broadband services as a condition of electric services.”

It is estimated that 800,000 Alabama residents are without access to a wired connection capable of 25 megabytes per second download speeds and 276,000 people in the state do not have any wired internet providers available at all.

“Hundreds more residences and businesses have access to high-speed internet today, thanks to these two pieces of legislation we’re taking this even further,” Ivey said.

There were concerns that the bill could give an unfair advantage to utilities and electric cooperatives over cable companies. Michelle Roth, Executive Director for the Alabama Cable and Broadband Association, provided WVUA23 with this statement:

“Alabama’s cable and broadband providers appreciate our state leaders incentivizing the deployment of rural broadband. We look forward to continuing to provide and expand this service which is vital to economic development, education and quality of life to our residents.”

WVUA23’s Jabaree Prewitt spoke with Alabama Power official, who told him that they are supportive of the bills, but have not made any decision on how they will be involved.

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