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House approves broadband expansion bills

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved two Senate bills to expand broadband infrastructure and access throughout the state.

Senate Bill 123, sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, makes changes to the Connect Alabama Act of 2021. The fund established in this act provides grants for broadband expansion for the state’s unserved areas.

Previously, there was no set internet speed for an area to be counted as having broadband access. SB123 quantifies this threshold in megabits.

“We’re all from rural Alabama,” Shedd said of himself, Scofield and other legislators working on broadband expansion. “So we’re going to be fighting tooth and nail for every dollar we can get for rural Alabama and unserved areas.”

Shedd said the bills allow for the necessary flexibility to be able to deal with changes in technology and federal funding as they arise.

“We don’t want to be in the position where we have to wait until the next year for the Legislature to address (changes),” he said.

The bill also allows for non-disclosure agreements between the Alabama Digital Expansion Division and broadband providers as well as annual revisions of the Connect Alabama Fund.

The bill increases the minimum connectivity speeds allowed in grant-funded projects to at least 100 megabits per second downstream and at least 20 megabits per second upstream.

Senate Bill 124, also sponsored by Scofield and Shedd, would make it easier for cities to receive broadband grants by revising the application process and also increasing the minimum internet speed required for an area to be counted as having broadband access. 

The bill also increases the amount of grant funding allowed per project from 35%, up to $1.5 million, to 80% up to $5 million. 

Both bills passed the House unanimously.

“We won’t succeed real well in the 21st century if we don’t have [broadband access],” Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham said.

Senate Bill 125 is a constitutional amendment that would further expand broadband access by allowing state and local governments to use federal grant money for broadband expansion by a private company. Current constitution language prohibits local governments from granting “public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation.”

This bill has not been brought to a vote in the House yet.


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