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Gov. Ivey Awards More than $1 Million in Grants to Improve Rural Broadband Access

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

Residents in seven Alabama communities will be afforded access to high-speed internet thanks to grants awarded by Gov. Kay Ivey under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund which was signed into law by Ivey in March 2018.

The grants total almost $1.1 million are the first awarded from the fund which was made possible through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act signed into law last year.

“These grants may only represent one step in terms of providing high-speed internet opportunities to rural Alabama, but it is a monumental leap for a program that has the ability to positively impact the lives of so many people,” Gov. Ivey said. “By supplying these services to rural Alabama, we are also providing these areas the ability to step up in education, health care and economic development.”

The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides funds for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less. Under the law, awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project.

Ivey placed the administrative duties of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund under the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

Through this legislation, the state encourages accelerated private investment in broadband infrastructure by telecommunications companies, cable companies, and electric cooperatives in rural areas. Grants awarded by ADECA under this act may only be awarded for projects in unserved areas.

The bill was originally sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield from senate district 9 and then-Representative Donnie Chesteen from house district 87 when the bill was signed but was just elected to the senate seat for district 29 in the 2018 election.

“Providing broadband services to Alabama’s rural communities is in many ways the equivalent of providing those same areas with electricity in early 20th Century,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA and Gov. Ivey share the goal of supplying this essential service to every part of Alabama.”

Grants awarded and coverage areas are:

  • Millry Telephone Co. Inc. of Millry – $938,306 for coverage in incorporated areas of Gilbertown and Toxey and some unincorporated areas in Choctaw County.
  • Marcus Cable Associates of Birmingham – $11,022 for coverage in the East Wood Point area in Moulton.
  • Marcus Cables Associates of Birmingham – $11,063 for coverage in the Emerald Ridge area in Chelsea.
  • Charter Communications – $29,567 for coverage in Glen Ridge in southwest Tuscaloosa County.
  • Charter Communications – $6,017 for coverage in Grace Haven subdivision in Boaz.
  • Charter Communications – $8,415 for coverage in the Vickey Lane area in Boaz.
  •  Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. – $74,586 for coverage in the Pea Ridge community near Henagar.

There are more than 842,000 people without access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds in Alabama. Over 1 million people in Alabama have access to only one wired provider and another 276,000 people in Alabama don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live, according to WHNT 19.

Here you can view a map of all the areas in Alabama that receive broadband coverage greater than or equal to 10/1 Mbps. ADECA also provides an interactive map that shows all broadband coverage in Alabama and by what company.

Rural broadband access is still a topic of concern among legislators though. During Ivey’s recent inaugural speech she mentioned the need for continued improvement on broadband access for rural counties and hinted at more work for the effort in upcoming legislative sessions. The legislative session begins March 5.

Caroline Beck is a reporter living in Montgomery. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarolineBeckADN.

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