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Ivey signs Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act

High-speed internet is no longer just a luxury for our rural areas. It is a necessity to help rural residents conduct business, to expand education opportunities, to create avenues for remote health care and to spur economic development.

During this legislative session, the Alabama Rural Electric Association (AREA), which publishes Alabama Living magazine, and its member cooperatives championed the bill known as SB149, or the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act. The legislation will encourage private investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas.

In late March, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.

“This common sense legislation will help us attract new broadband to areas that need it most, especially in rural Alabama,” Ivey said.

The bill, which is just a first step in a long process to bring internet to rural areas, was sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Donnie Chesteen.

The act creates a grant program to be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Individual grants may be awarded for up to 20 percent of the project costs to telecommunications companies, cable companies and electric cooperatives.

Alabama will be further helped by a pilot program, grants and loans from the federal government. Congress, through an effort led by Congressman Robert Aderholt, included in the omnibus spending bill a $600 million pilot program that will enable applicants to finance a project by combining loans and grants to provide broadband to eligible rural and tribal areas.

Ivey’s office estimates that more than 842,000 Alabamians are without access to a wired connection capable of 25 megabits per second download speeds. One million have access to only a single wired provider, and another 276,000 don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.