PRATTVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday awarded an $82.45 million grant for what she said will be a transformative project to expand broadband service in the state.
Ivey said the grant will be used by Fiber Utility Network, a corporation formed by eight rural electric cooperatives to fund a “middle-mile” broadband network to help close gaps in service. The Fiber Utility Network will create a network that will connect almost 3000 miles of existing and new fiber infrastructure within a three-year period, Ivey’s office said. Once connected, residents will have the ability to become a customer of last-mile broadband providers.
Ivey said expanding broadband is a journey, not a short trip, that ends with giving “everyone in Alabama, no matter where they live, the ability to be connected.”
“In 2022, being able to be connected at home, work or on the on go is absolutely necessary, and this is certainly key to making that a reality,” Ivey said.
Funds for the project are being provided through the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping COVID-19 rescue package signed into law by President Joe Biden.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, a Democrat from Greensboro, said rural areas are handicapped by the lack of access to high-speed internet that’s become important for education, work and healthcare.
“A lot of these children just don’t have access to internet. We can’t recruit businesses, because it’s part of the package that they want, and also for health care. Telemedicine can now be deployed in our communities,” Singleton said.
The eight co-ops include: Central Alabama, Coosa Valley, Covington, Cullman, Joe Wheeler, North Alabama, PowerSouth and Tombigbee.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the award through its Alabama Digital Expansion Division which was created to target ways to supply broadband services to unserved and underserved areas of Alabama.
Attending the announcement were top lawmakers and leaders from the electric utility industry supporting the effort. In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed a law allowing broadband companies to piggyback existing electric utility infrastructure to get service to rural areas faster.
Houston Smith, chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama and vice president of governmental affairs for the Alabama Power Company, said the industry is committed to seeing rural broadband expansion become a reality.
“While today’s announcement is a big leap forward for our state, there’s still a long way to go. Alabama’s electric utilities are committed to improving the lives of every citizen of the state by continuing to lay the groundwork — and the infrastructure — for a future where all Alabamians have access to high-speed internet.”
Alabama Daily News publisher Todd Stacy contributed to this report.