MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Rural Broadband Act is now law, authorizing a new fund and grant program that will be used to expand access to broadband internet in rural communities.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed SB149, legislation sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva).
“The internet is vital to economic development, health, education, and to be honest, all areas of our modern life. This common sense legislation will help us attract new broadband to areas that need it most, especially in rural Alabama,” Ivey said. “I congratulate Senator Scofield and Representative Chesteen for a job well done in seeing this bill through the legislature. It is just another step forward as we improve access to high-speed internet sooner rather than later.”
The Governor’s office estimates that more than 842,000 Alabamians are without access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds. One million have access to a single wired provider and another 276,000 don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.
“As a senator and a resident of a rural part of Alabama, I understand the need for broadband expansion across our state. With this expansion we can see more growth in our economy, our residents can find better health care and there will be more opportunity for our students to learn. I appreciate Governor Ivey for fully supporting our efforts to improve life in rural Alabama,” Scofield said.
“I was proud to carry this important legislation in the House of Representatives. As a representative of the citizens of rural Alabama, I see first-hand how a lack of internet connectivity limits the growth of communities. It is important that we get this new program up and going so that our rural communities will be able to take part in the economic growth that our larger areas are seeing,” Chesteen said.
The grant program will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Lawmakers and other state officials are hoping to leverage state grants to gain access to federal broadband internet funds recently authorized by the omnibus spending bill. Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt, who chairs the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, helped secure $600 million for a broadband pilot program in the omnibus spending bill.
The new monies are aimed to accelerate private investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas from cable, telecom, and electric cooperatives.