Senate to consider bill providing broadband service to rural areas

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Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) has introduced legislation in the Senate that would remove coverage area restrictions for public providers of municipal telecommunication services and allow those providers more leeway in providing broadband service to rural areas of Alabama. Providers are already supplying these areas with cable and phone service, but Whatley’s bill would open up avenues for providing high-speed internet service.

Republicans and Gov. Robert Bentley have made it a priority to provide Alabama’s rural areas with high-speed Internet service, a move they believe will make great strides in lowering the unemployment rate and, thereby, the state’s poverty rate. Currently, only 44 percent of Alabamians outside of major cities have access to broadband Internet service, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“My legislation will improve Internet access by creating new providers, which will directly correlate to increased economic development,” Whatley said in a statement on the Senate Republicans’ website. “Locking our municipal telecom providers into arcane coverage areas is a shortsighted approach to protect growth-limiting monopolies.”

To be sure, rural Alabamians face significant hurdles in having access to top-notch Internet service – only 66 percent of Alabamians have access to broadband Internet service and only a small portion of them have access to service provided through fiber-optics, a method more efficient and faster in delivering broadband service.

Whatley noted in his statement that Google has recently announced plans to “partner” with Huntsville, but that partnership does little good for Alabama’s smaller cities. The senator’s legislation, SB56, would make great strides in providing Internet service to rural Alabama and create a climate of competition which will benefit consumers.

“Over 1.6 million Alabamians lack access to high-speed Internet: that number must be reduced, and quickly, if our state is going to compete and thrive in the 21st century,” Whatley said.

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