On May 6, the Connect Alabama Act — Senate Bill 215 — cleared the final Legislature hurdle and, pending Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature, will provide transformational broadband expansion across Alabama.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and carried in the House by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, received nearly unanimous bipartisan support and was supported by a broad range of advocates, including the diverse membership of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition as well as the Alabama Association of Realtors, Alabama Farmers Federation, Black Belt Community Foundation, Medical Association of the State of Alabama, and many education advocates among many others.
“Today marks a milestone for building a 21st Century economy and education system in which all Alabamians, regardless of where they live, can thrive,” said Blake Hardwich, a Connect Alabama steering committee member representing the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition. “Broadband internet access is a necessary utility in dire need of expansion, and groups like the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition and Connect Alabama will continue to fight for increased access until every single person in Alabama who wants broadband is served.”
The Connect Alabama Act:
- Creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority (ADEA) to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband services throughout the state, including in rural and underserved areas. The authority consists of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) Director, Alabama Digital Expansion Division Chief and 9 designees from state leaders.
- Establishes the Alabama Digital Expansion Division, a subdivision of the ADECA, that will develop and execute a statewide connectivity plan and establish and administer a broadband accessibility grant program. The grant program will promote the deployment and adoption of high-speed broadband internet networks, services and technologies throughout the state.
- Creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Finance Corporation (ADEFC) to issue bonds and serve as a resource to ADEA and the Alabama Digital Expansion Division by helping to fund broadband deployment projects.
Currently, Alabama is ranked 47th in terms of broadband connectivity and 73 percent of Alabama’s population does not have access to an affordable broadband plan. Alabama is also the only state in the Southeast without an official broadband plan.
The Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition thanks the Legislature for this important step and vision in helping to fully bring Alabama into the 21st Century.