Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey: Broadband is one of ‘the greatest challenges in our state’
Governor Kay E. Ivey on Friday delivered the Governor Albert P. Brewer Legacy Keynote Address to conclude the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s (PARCA) annual forum.
This wrapped up a week of virtual discussions on online connectivity, especially related to the lack of broadband access in the state.
Ivey, near the beginning of her remarks, underlined that expanding high-speed broadband internet service access across Alabama is one of “the greatest challenges in our state.”
“In fact, the expansion of broadband internet is one of the greatest infrastructure challenges in 21st century America,” she commented. “And it’s quickly becoming a necessity in many areas of life; health care, education and economic development are just a few of the areas in which broadband is becoming vital.”
She reported that “our state is making progress in addressing this challenge by working together.”
Yet, Alabama still finds itself 47th in the nation when it comes to broadband connectivity, and it is projected that between $4 billion and $6 billion is needed to expand access to all Alabamians.
Ivey advised the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund — created through legislation in 2018 and then enhanced in 2019 — has acted as a “jumpstart” to expanding broadband access to rural and other unserved areas of the Yellowhammer State. However, only funded at $25 million annually and with no central planning or oversight, it would seem that much more work is needed to really move the ball down the field.
“As of May 2020, $19.8 million in grants have been awarded to support 55 projects,” the governor noted of the Broadband Accessibility Fund. “These projects represent approximately 25,134 new services to households, businesses and community institutions across Alabama at an average grant cost of $788 per service.”
The next round of grants is expected to be announced in “late spring,” she added.
“Folks, we have our challenges ahead, but we also have a roadmap,” Ivey said. “I remain committed to ensuring we do our part to provide equity through broadband in our state.”
SB 215, viewed as a transformational bill aimed at increasing the availability of high-speed broadband internet service to every corner of Alabama, was passed by the Senate this week in a unanimous vote; the measure now awaits consideration by the House.
Speaking to Yellowhammer News last month, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) said of broadband expansion, “We’ve got to continue the momentum.”
“Funding is one of the key issues we’re looking at right now,” he advised at the time. “Broadband will definitely be one of our top priorities in this session.”
House Majority Whip Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) is set to carry SB 215 in the House.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn