Broadband expansion is on the way

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Last week, the Alabama Senate passed three bills sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield, the Senate Majority Leader. The legislation allows for the expansion of broadband access across our state. This is news that many in Alabama need – especially in our rural areas and for our small businesses and school-aged children. For too many years there has been a digital divide in our state, and now relief is on the way.

About one-fifth of Alabama households don’t have internet access, and many more don’t have high-speed internet access.

Senator Scofield has long championed and championed the need to expand broadband infrastructure and provide high-speed Internet service throughout our state.

Scofield chairs the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority. He and his authority colleagues recently announced the Alabama Broadband Map. The map displays a detailed account of internet coverage as it exists in Alabama. Clearly, there is plenty of room for improvement in coverage.

State Representative Randall Shedd of Fairview will take the legislation to the House of Representatives. Between him and Senator Scofield, who both live in rural areas of the state, they will get there. Both legislators have dedicated a great deal of time, energy and effort to this cause and are to be commended for their work.

There are federal funds we can use to expand broadband, and there could be a constitutional amendment on our November ballot if it passes both houses of the Legislative Assembly. If approved by voters, the legislation would authorize city and county grants to help with broadband expansion.

Alabama received about $1.7 billion in ARPA funds (a pandemic relief bill passed by Congress). The Legislature approved the money to be used for statewide broadband expansion and for water and sewer projects.

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Recently, the legislature approved an additional $277 million of money allocated to the state by ARPA for broadband expansion. There are also incentives for companies to also provide broadband in unserved areas of our state.

The state will receive another $1 billion in ARPA funding later this year. Senator Scofield wants 50% of that to go to broadband expansion. Hopefully, all of these steps will help our state into the 21st century — and not a moment too soon.

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