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Bringing broadband to rural Alabama

Network switch and ethernet cables,Data Center Concept.

Thursday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) joined Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), state Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), Assistant Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Anne Hazlett, and members of the north Alabama telecommunications industry in a panel discussion at Guntersville State Park. The panel promoted the benefits of rural broadband and announce that Congressman Aderholt has secured $600 million for USDA to increase access to broadband in rural America.

Gov. Ivey said that, “High-speed, high-quality connectivity is essential to modern day life. It’s a necessary component to education, commerce & quality healthcare.” Ivey said that she was glad to join Robert Aderholt and Hazlett with USDA Rural Development Assistant Secretary Hazlett “to further broadband development efforts in rural areas, specifically in rural Alabama.”

Gov. Ivey thanked Sen. Scofield and Speaker McCutcheon for passing legislation during the last legislative session to great a grant program to help broadband providers extend their services to rural Alabama.

Congressman Aderholt said that, “Securing $600 million for rural broadband wasn’t the end of our mission, but just the beginning. Today, Anne Hazlett- Assistant Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and I talked about the next steps to bring broadband to all of Alabama. I was honored to have our state and local leaders Governor Kay Ivey, Speaker Mac McCutcheon, and State Senator Clay Scofield join me in this mission as well.”

This is $600 million in additional funding that will enable us to connect rural America. This funding is significant because it represents new resources,” Sec. Hazlett said. Hazlett said that the USDA is designing a pilot program to extend broadband infrastructure into the Alabama countryside.

Hazlett said that too many children are having to do their homework at McDonalds for the free WIFI or not doing it at all because they don’t have access to high speed internet.

Sen. Scofield’s legislation created a grant program that will help the state leverage those federal dollars, when USDA develops their program.

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Rep. Aderholt said that one hundreds years ago businesses in rural America could not compete because they did not have electricity.  Today they can not compete without high speed internet. Aderholt compared extending broadband into the rural areas of the country to federal support for rural electrification and water systems.
Aderholt said that the Trump Administration understands and cares about rural America and is committed to extending broadband to the rural areas.

Huntsville area economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Access to broadband is a request that virtually every major corporation desires when locating within our state. Earlier in the year, Governor Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which authorized the creation of a broadband accessibility grant program. The bill, sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield and Representative Donnie Chesteen, also created the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. This is a great start to achieving the goal of bringing accessibility to all areas of Alabama.”

“The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of designing a pilot program to bring broadband infrastructure to rural areas within Alabama,” Nicole Jones said. “Federal assistance for the infrastructure, combined with state assistance as well as private sector investments, is a team effort that helps projects come to fruition and ultimately enhances the quality of life for Alabamians.”

Also on Thursday U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue unveiled a new webpage featuring information about the importance of rural e-Connectivity and the ways that USDA is investing to help deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure in rural America.

“Rural high-speed broadband e-Connectivity is as important for economic development as rail, roads, bridges and airports – and as vital as the buildouts of rural telephone networks were decades ago,” Perdue said. “USDA is committed to being a strong partner with rural leaders in deploying this essential infrastructure.”

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump (R) established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural America. In January, Sec. Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump, which included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America.

Expanding broadband in Alabama will involve a collaborative effort between the federal government, state government, and the telecommunications industry.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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