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Alabama Releases Millions to Support Broadband Work

Contracts and federal grant monies aim to rapidly bring high-speed Internet to many of the state’s 67 counties. The developments follow last-mile broadband work paid for by more than $82 million in state funding.

The Alabama state Capitol building in Montgomery.
Broadband development this year across Alabama is targeting “last mile” and “middle mile” projects in nearly three-quarters of the state’s counties with many millions of dollars in federal funding.

Sixteen Internet service providers (ISPs) have been awarded $148.3 million from the Alabama 66 Capital Projects Fund to expand high-speed Internet service to homes and businesses. These “last mile” projects will roll out more than 5,000 miles of infrastructure, to bring rapid broadband to nearly 54,000 homes, businesses and institutions, Gov. Kay Ivey's office said in a news release. The region covered includes parts of 48 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

“This has been a monumental task, but it is one that will pay multiple dividends for our state and its residents. Today is an exciting day as we announce these latest projects,” Ivey said in a statement Feb. 27.

In a separate announcement Feb. 5, the state said it will release more than $188 million in grants to 12 ISPs to build 4,000 miles of “middle mile” projects — broadband infrastructure projects which, typically, connect network gaps between "first mile" and "last mile" projects in unserved or underserved areas

Like the “last mile” projects which generally run Internet connections to homes and businesses, much of the funding for this work is supported by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), legislation initiated by the Biden administration in early 2021. ARPA — and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is making $42 billion available as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) — are major sources of broadband funding for the state. Alabama has been awarded more than $1.4 billion from the BEAD program.

“In the 21st century, access to affordable, high-speed Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and one that many Alabamians have gone without for far too long,” Rep. Terri Sewell said in a statement Feb. 5.

Already, more than $82 million in state funding — provided by the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund — has supported more than 100 “last mile” ISP projects providing Internet access to more than 72,000 previously unserved homes and businesses, Mike Presley, unit chief for communications and external affairs at the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, told Government Technology via email. The department administers the grants through its Alabama Digital Expansion Division.

“Broadband connectivity is an essential piece of infrastructure in the 21st century,” Presley said. “It is important for health care, economic development, educational opportunities and just about every other facet of modern life.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.