House OKs bill to fund wireless networks in schools

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The Alabama House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday to approve a bill to provide $12 million in funding to help schools in rural parts of the state gain access to broadband Internet service.

HB41, also referred to as the Wired Act, by Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva), seeks to tackle a difficult problem that has left many schools behind in regard to technology.

In the past, the federal government has assisted schools in purchasing computers through the E-rate program, funded through fees levied on telecommunications companies. To gain access to that money, schools have to match the funds through local dollars.

Because of that, many of Alabama’s poorest schools have been unable to come up with the required matches. Currently, about 91 Alabama schools are set to miss out if they are unable to meet a deadline later this month.

Chesteen’s bill pulls money from a state education technology fund in order to assist schools in matching E-rate funding.

The legislation is built upon an earlier bill from Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), which failed to pass both houses when its effort to acquire a $100 million bond to fund “pen enabled tablets and mobile computers” was thought to become quickly obsolete.

Chesteen’s bill also takes on another of the House GOP’s agenda items, which was to see better technology installed in rural parts of the state. However, the legislation is separate from the proposals from Gov. Robert Bentley and a Senate bill from Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn), which would decrease regulations on telecommunication service providers to enhance access to broadband service in rural parts of the state.

With its passage in the House, Chesteen’s bill is set to go before the Senate next week.

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