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Broadband expansion to underserved areas could cost $4B-$6B

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – It will cost around $4 billion to $6 billion to bring broadband access to underserved areas of the state, Alabama lawmakers were recently told.

The information, along with an updated map of those underserved portions of the state, was presented by CTC Technology and Energy, which has a contract to develop a statewide plan for broadband access.

Joanne Hovis, CTC president, said the estimate for cost was based on providing the best level of technology.

“That would be for deployment of best-case infrastructure, that would be future proof and would last for decades and generations,” Hovis said.

The new map will help the state in its broadband deployment efforts and better inform the broadband accessibility grant process and federal funding.

Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, chairs the Rural Broadband Oversight Committee and told Alabama Daily News that he is pleased with the progress being made so far when it comes to broadband development in the state and thinks the new map will be a significant help.

“That’s going to be a big deal and will be a critical component and really has been one of our biggest challenges to really get an accurate grasp of exactly what the digital divide is in Alabama,” Scofield said.

Along with the mapping efforts, CTC will also be providing strategic and technical guidance to rural communities on how they can work with private partners to increase access.

Maureen Neighbors, energy division chief at the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, gave lawmakers an update on the progress of the Broadband Accessibility Grant program, which began in 2018.

For the 2020 application period, the agency received 61 applications and 40 projects were given funding. About $19.8 million was awarded with a matching private investment of $47 million.

For 2021, lawmakers allocated the grant program $20 million in the state education budget.

ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said the current funding stream for the program is sufficient but a long-term funding stream could provide more security for broadband companies and allow for more expansion.

“If they know they have the continued funding mechanism in place, knowing that they not only could obtain state, federal and other funding that might be available to help, I think a lot of emphasis needs to be put on the long-term source from my perspective,” Boswell said.

Scofield said he and other senators are currently looking for long-term funding sources but does not plan to bring forward any other major broadband legislation in the session that starts Tuesday.

Meanwhile, CTC is creating a “best in class” map of broadband capabilities across the state through a new precise map that will detail every resident, business and institution location with the most accurate information of available services at those addresses.  

Hovis said once this map is done, which is scheduled to be finished at the end of this year, it will be one of the best in the nation.

“The existing efforts including the upcoming mapping will make Alabama without question one of the leaders in the country,” Hovis said. “This map at the end of the year will make you among just a handful of states that have data at that level of granularity.”

ADECA provided the most recent broadband availability map last week:

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