Governor Kay Ivey announced in a statement on Tuesday that seven communities were awarded the first Broadband Accessibility Fund Grants totaling $1.1 million. She said “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.”
In order to qualify for these funds, a community must be unincorporated or have a population of 25,000 people or fewer. The grant cannot exceed more than 20 percent of the total cost of the project. The Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund is administrated by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. In Ivey’s statement, ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said “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,” He continued “ADECA and Gov. Ivey share the goal of supplying this essential service to every part of Alabama.”
The Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which became law in March 2018, authorized the grant program, to remedy the number of people in Alabama with no or limited access to high-speed internet. As of March 2018, nearly 850,000 people are without high-speed internet, more than 1 million have access only to one wired internet provider, and more than 275,000 had no wired providers available.
Providers have been expanding access as well. In December of last year, AT&T brought fixed wireless internet to rural parts of 39 counties that previously did not have internet access. “In today’s digital economy, access to reliable broadband service is critical. My colleagues and I are working hard to create an environment that supports private investment and enhanced broadband access for all Alabamians. I applaud AT&T’s continued investment and am pleased Fixed Wireless Internet is now available in parts of 39 Alabama counties,” said Alabama 4th District U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt, “With the use of multiple technologies across Alabama, we will close the access gaps that exist in some of our rural communities.”
Expanding internet access has been a bipartisan effort. In December of last year, Democrat Senator Doug Jones encouraged rural entities to apply for broadband loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Jones said, “Today, more than ever, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Students rely on connectivity for their education, hospitals and health care providers use telehealth capabilities to reach rural communities, and small businesses need the internet to thrive. It provides economic opportunity, strengthens our communities and connects our workforce throughout Alabama and the nation. This USDA funding is a great opportunity to close the broadband gaps that exist in Alabama and I encourage any eligible entity in the state to apply.”
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.