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ADECA says Alabama broadband plans are nearly ready for approval

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) was tasked with expanding broadband in the state prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 revealed the necessity for expanding high-speed internet and has brought federal funds and increased urgency.

ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell told Alabama’s economic developers the state is ready to spend $85 million in America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to expand broadband in the state and is seeking nearly $200 million more in Alabama’s Capital Projects Fund for further expansion.

ADECA readies broadband plans for Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Speaking at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s 2022 Summer Conference, Boswell said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey first sought to work broadband into ADECA’s mission in 2017.

The Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition pushed for legislation in 2019. That legislation eventually passed and Ivey signed it into law in July 2021.

The ARPA funding was a response to the pandemic when quarantines exposed the need for connectivity for people working from home, doing distance learning for school and needing telemedicine for health care.

A crew consisting of Alabama Power personnel and contractors works to install conduit to carry underground fiber-optic technology that will help expand broadband access in rural Alabama. (Michael Sznajderman / Alabama NewsCenter)

“(The pandemic) magnified how bad that we needed it,” Boswell said. “It’s quality of life, it’s health care, it’s education – in today’s world, broadband impacts and affects us in every way, shape, form and fashion.”

Boswell said there is a need for $4 billion to $6 billion to expand broadband in the state, but two plans are at least a start.

Companies like C SpirePoint Broadband and Tombigbee Communications have been working with Alabama Power and others to bridge the state’s digital divide since 2019.

Boswell said systems with the infrastructure and networks have the main lines of access – known as the “first mile” – and local providers can connect homes and businesses with what is known as the “last mile.” The need is the “middle mile” between the two, and that is where ADECA plans to spend the $85 million in ARPA funds.

“We have five applications in house right now, and we hope to have those graded and an announcement made hopefully in the next two weeks,” Boswell said.

The other ADECA plan seeks to use funds from the state.

“Our second process is the actual Capital Projects Fund with $191 million,” Boswell said. “We have the plan complete. We’re doing all of our checks and balances as we speak. We will submit that to (the Alabama Department of) Commerce. They have up to a year to actually approve the plan, but we’re hoping that because of our advancements with our plan program that we will actually get that done quicker, by hopefully six months.”

Those expenditures are in addition to the billions more being spent by private companies helping to expand broadband throughout Alabama.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s Economic and Community Development initiatives at AmazingAlabama.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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