Alabama cable providers plan to invest more than $13 million to bring broadband telecommunications services to rural Alabama citizens who do not yet have high speed internet services. The investment would be incentivized through $4.67 million in grant funding from the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund (ABAF), a state fund established in 2018 to help extend broadband services to rural Alabamians who do not yet have them. ABAF grants fund up to 35% of project costs to extend broadband technology, enabling the full $13 million cable provider broadband investment.
For the current ABAF grant cycle, the 18 grants applied for by Alabama cable providers cover nearly 8,000 rural Alabama homes and businesses, including 35 community anchor locations such as rural hospitals and libraries. The grants seek to serve the highest number of unserved homes, businesses and community anchor points (such as hospitals and libraries) for the least cost and best level of service. Projects including the highest broadband speeds are emphasized in the evaluation process.
“Alabama’s cable companies have been providing broadband to rural consumers since the late 1990s and we continue efforts to expand broadband in rural areas,” said Michelle Roth, executive director of the Alabama Cable and Broadband Association. “The projects in these grant applications extend high speed internet services to rural Alabamians who currently have no access to them.”
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), which administers the grant program, may rule out applications which they feel do not meet the grant standards of extending broadband to unserved parts of the state. In addition, Roth said grant guidelines also allow for challenges to applications by existing providers.
“We are for a fair and open process that does not use taxpayer dollars to duplicate service to customers who already have access to broadband service,” Roth explained. “In light of the current public health concerns that are forcing our students online for their education, we’ve all got to make sure we first roll out new broadband service to rural customers who don’t already have it.”