Incentives bill to encourage rural broadband expansion passes Alabama Senate

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Clearly the third time’s a charm when it comes to passing a bill that incentivizes the expansion of rural broadband.

Guntersville-Republican State Sen. Clay Scofield re-introduced SB149 — a bill that incentivizes private projects and increases opportunity for rural broadband expansion — for the third time this quadrennium and it finally passed the Senate on Thursday.

“In the 1930s the infrastructure challenge was electricity, and in the 60s and 70s it was ensuring rural areas had clean drinking water. Expanding access to broadband internet is the infrastructure challenge of our day. We must ensure that all Alabamians have an opportunity to succeed in the digital economy,” Scofield said. “Currently, thousands of families and businesses in rural Alabama are without access to fast broadband. That’s unconscionable.”

The Alabama Rural Broadband Act is a free-market approach to increasing private investment to expand high-speed internet access across the state. The legislation would exempt companies that build qualified broadband telecommunications network facilities in rural areas from sales tax for 10 years. It would also provide a 10 percent investment tax credit, capped at $20 million per company annually.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) and a legislative oversight committee are tasked with overseeing implementation of the legislation. All of the incentives will expire in five years, unless renewed by the state legislature.

“Students, families, and business owners in rural Alabama desperately need fast broadband internet,” said Jasper-Republican Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. “Senate Republicans are committed to making sure that all of Alabama thrives as our state economy continues to grow. I commend Sen. Scofield for his able leadership in moving this legislation forward.”

The World Bank commissioned a study in 2015 that showed a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration could increase economic growth by 1.2 percent. It also stated that doubling broadband speeds can add 0.3 percent to GDP growth.

“Seventy years ago, co-ops and private companies invested in bringing electricity to the country, improving life and creating jobs for millions. It’s my hope that this legislation will spur the same expansion with the internet to all those same households and businesses,” Scofield remarked.

SB149 now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration.

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