By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to create a new state agency to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband services throughout the state.
Senate Bill 215 now goes to the House.
“Access to high-speed internet is critical to creating economic development and driving our state forward, and it is one of the most urgent needs we are dealing with in our state today,” bill sponsor Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said in a statement after the Senate vote. “Alabama is currently ranked 47th in the nation when it comes to internet access, according to U.S. News and World Report, and we are only getting further behind.
The bill cleared the Senate on a 32-0 vote.
The expansion would be at least partially funded through a gambling expansion bill also sponsored by Marsh.
The bill creates a nine-member Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband services throughout the state. A larger Connect Alabama Advisory Board will make recommendations to the authority. The authority within a year of the law’s passage must develop and begin executing a Statewide Connectivity Plan to facilitate the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband networks, services, and technologies. A timeline for implementation must be included.
It also creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Finance Corporation that could issue bonds of up to $250 million to finance eligible projects.
“Students, businesses, health care providers, and countless others depend on broadband access, and too many individuals across our state lack this necessary resource,” Marsh said.