By MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press
HAMILTON, Ala. (AP) — Communications company Tombigbee has received a $3 million federal grant to expand broadband internet access to a rural community in northwest Alabama, the company’s president announced Thursday.
Tombigbee Communications CEO and President Steve Foshee announced the grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service at a news conference in Marion County alongside Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
The grant money will be used to construct 145 miles of broadband facilities to connect hundreds of households in Brilliant, Alabama. Residents will have internet access starting in October.
The governor’s office said more than 842,000 Alabamians don’t have access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds. An estimated 276,000 people have no wired internet providers available where they live.
“Broadband connectivity is not a luxury; it’s a necessity for the modern economy in which we live,” Perdue said at Thursday’s news conference. “Today, to compete in the modern-day marketplace, we must have infrastructure to close gaps in rural communities.”
Perdue said high-speed internet access would open up opportunities for farmers to increase productivity, entrepreneurs to run businesses and students to take distance learning classes.
“It means a real transformation of rural America having the opportunity to be a part of the American dream once again,” Perdue said.
Foshee said Tombigbee has already invested $10 million in covering 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) in northwest Alabama with fiber-optic cables for broadband access. The company plans to expand for 1,600 more miles and connect 425 homes to the internet.
The grant is part of a $600 million appropriation from the federal government to expand broadband rural access across the country. This year, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also signed into law the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act that creates a grant to fund and expand broadband in the state.