By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved a bill intended to expand rural access to highspeed broadband internet.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, aims to expand private investment in broadband infrastructure by providing tax incentives to telecommunications and cable companies that invest in rural areas.
Senate Bill 149, the Alabama Rural Broadband Act, was a component of the Senate Republicans’ agenda.
“In the 1930s the infrastructure challenge was electricity, and in the 60s and 70s it was ensuring rural areas had clean drinking water,” Scofield said. “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. Currently, thousands of families and businesses in rural Alabama are without access to fast broadband. That’s unconscionable.”
Because of the importance of highspeed internet access to rural communities, Scofield and the bill’s co-sponsors said tax incentives should be provided to push companies to build new network facilities and infrastructure.
If the bill passes the House and is signed by the governor, the law will allow for the state to provide a 10 percent investment tax credit to companies that choose to invest in underserved rural areas of the state. Rural areas, according to the bill, are any other area that isn’t a town or city with a population of more than 25,000.
The bill also provides for sales and use tax exemptions.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and a legislative oversight community will be responsible for implementing the tax breaks. The incentives expire after five years unless the Legislature chooses to renew them.
“If we want Alabama’s economy to grow and Alabama to be all we want her to be, we’re going to have to have economic growth not only just in the cities and along the interstates but also in rural areas in our community,” said Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, in a press conference last month. “That’s going to require that broadband access be something that’s important.”
Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has said the bill will spur private investment. Some Democrats, including Sen. Bobby Singleton, R-Greensboro, and Minority Leader Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, were listed as co-sponsors of the legislation.
“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 said.
The bill now heads to the House.