A message from AARP Alabama
State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, has announced plans for a package of bills aimed at helping the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs continue its work to ensure Alabamians everywhere have access to high-speed internet.
Scofield, the chair of the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority, said it’s not enough for ADECA to focus on internet accessibility grants with the goal of making today’s best technology available to our state’s residents.
“We really need to empower ADECA a little more, and with the nature of how fast technology can change, they need to be able to evolve and meet the needs with that,” Scofield told the Alabama Daily News after a meeting of the digital authority.
AARP Alabama could not agree more with Sen. Scofield’s assessment. Without access to high-speed internet, communities suffer, losing out on opportunities for people to learn, find jobs, and stay healthy—and for local businesses to prosper.
To make sure that Alabama’s people and communities reap the benefits of high-speed internet expansion, more work needs to be done to ensure that all residents have the tools and skills they need to take maximum advantage of these services.
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the reality of a digital world where people could work from home, children could attend virtual classes, groceries could be purchased online, and everything from family visits to doctor’s visits could occur remotely – but only if they had access and skills to use today’s technology.
The pandemic raised awareness of longstanding digital divisions in Alabama. Those with access to high-speed internet could pursue higher education, expand their skills and forge new paths to opportunity. They could search for jobs, apply for work and build professional networks in an increasingly digital world. Meanwhile, those who lacked access to the technology, either because the service was unavailable or because they did not know how to use it, were increasingly left behind.
As Sen. Scofield noted, the state of Alabama is ahead of the curve because it has already mapped out where gaps exist in high-speed internet service. But Alabama also needs a plan to maximize the benefits to residents currently in those gaps and ensure that they receive full benefits of this expansion.
AARP has long been involved in efforts to help adults age 50 and older develop and grow their digital skills. In Alabama, we stand ready to work with Sen. Scofield, ADECA and others to meet this critical need as part of the expansion in access to high-speed internet service.
The timing to expand these efforts could not be better. The pandemic has helped promote consensus and unprecedented investments in expanding access to high-speed Internet service. The American Rescue Plan Act allocated $191 million for Alabama that could be used for this service. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which Congress passed last month allocates at least $100 million for high-speed internet in Alabama. Additional grant money will also be available.
With this level of investment, we have a historic opportunity to help many Alabamians as well as many of our small businesses that are continuing to feel the squeeze of the COVID economy.
As we work to expand high-speed internet access, the goal must be to make sure that these services are available to all Alabamians where they live – in both a geographic and a more metaphorical sense.
Whether or not they are low-income, rural or older, all Alabamians need internet access and solid digital skills to thrive in today’s world. If we want all our residents to flourish – and if we want our state to flourish economically – we must make internet services more available, affordable and accessible to all.