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U.S. Treasury approves $191.9M for last-mile broadband expansion in Alabama

The state estimates the new infrastructure will connect 55,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access.

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The U.S. Treasury on Thursday approved Alabama’s plan for the Capital Projects Fund, unlocking $191.8 million to go toward expanding broadband in the state.

The state estimates the new infrastructure will connect 55,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will administer the funds as part of a grant program to support projects to extend service to previously unserved areas of the state.

The use of the funds, which are part of the American Rescue Plan Act, for broadband expansion was approved by the Legislature last year. ADECA then worked to create a plan outlining use of the funds and submitted it to the U.S. Treasury Department in September 2022, with approval announced today.

“Access to broadband is a necessity in today’s world, and I continue to make it a priority that our state has the full ability to be connected to high-speed internet,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “I often say that broadband expansion is a journey, not a short trip. These funds will enable us to take several more strides in that journey toward full access no matter where you live in Alabama.”

ADECA’s Alabama Digital Expansion Division will roll out the competitive grant program in the coming months. The program will be modeled after the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, which ADECA has administered since 2018. Grants will be available for internet service providers to make “last-mile” connections to previously unserved homes, businesses and community institutions. Once connected, residents will have the ability to become a customer of the broadband providers.

ADECA will announce application details, deadlines and a workshop for the grant program in the coming months. If awarded, providers will have approximately two years to complete the major infrastructure projects which must provide connections of at least 100 megabits per second download/100 megabits per second upload.

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“Under Governor Ivey’s leadership and with a strong team effort among the Legislature, internet service providers and many others, the state has made progress in expanding access to high-speed internet,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “While the need is still great, these funds will enable us to make further progress in closing the digital divide in Alabama.” 

In accordance with Treasury’s guidance, each state’s plan requires service providers to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The Affordable Connectivity Program helps ensure that households can afford the high-speed internet they need for work, school, healthcare, and more by providing a discount of up to $30 per month (or up to $75 per eligible household on Tribal lands). Experts estimate that nearly 40 percent of U.S. households are eligible for the program.

To further lower costs, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced the Administration had secured commitments from 20 leading internet service providers—covering more than 80 percent of the U.S. population—to offer all ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30 per month. As a result of this agreement and the Affordable Connectivity Program, eligible households can receive internet access at no cost and can check their eligibility and sign up at GetInternet.gov. In addition to requiring funding recipients to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, Treasury’s guidance requires recipients to consider whether the federally funded networks will be affordable to the target markets in their service areas and encourages them to require that a federally funded project offer at least one low-cost option at speeds that are sufficient for a household with multiple users. 

“The pandemic upended life as we knew it and exposed the stark inequity in access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet in communities across the country, including rural, Tribal, and other underrepresented communities,” said Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo. “This funding is a key piece of the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investments to increase access to high-speed internet for millions of Americans and provide more opportunities to fully participate and compete in the 21st century economy.” 

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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