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Alabama Bill Allows Local Grants to Expand Broadband

The Alabama House passed a bill this week that officials in county governments said was needed to help their efforts to deliver high-speed Internet to certain places where it’s not available.

(TNS) — The Alabama House passed a bill today that county governments said was needed to help deliver high-speed internet to places where it’s not available.

The bill, by Rep. Randall Shedd, R- Baileyton, passed by a vote of 101-0. It proposes an amendment to the state constitution, which prohibits counties and cities from providing grants or other things of value to private companies. The Senate has passed a similar bill.

If one of the two bills wins final approval in the Legislature, it would go on the ballot for voters in November.

The bill is part of the efforts by the Legislature and the governor’s office to expand access to broadband, which is not available to about 20% of Alabama households, according to the Alabama Connectivity Plan, which was released in December.

Those efforts include a state grant program to make it feasible for companies to install the cable and other equipment needed to deliver broadband to places that would otherwise remain unserved. The efforts have been under way for several years and have included the development of the Alabama Broadband Map.

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the value of high-speed internet because of the importance of being able to work and attend school remotely.

Alabama and other states are receiving federal money for broadband expansion through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other federal laws. In January, the Legislature approved a plan to spend $277 million of Alabama’s share of ARPA funds for broadband expansion.

Besides $2.1 billion that the state will receive, ARPA is also providing about $950 million to counties and about $790 million to cities and towns. Congress allowed the money to be used for broadband.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama urged lawmakers to pass the proposed constitutional amendment because of concerns that the prohibition on grants to the private sector would block efforts to use ARPA money to expand broadband access.

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