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Alabama House votes to slash rural broadband funding by nearly 3/4

Improved rural broadband funding is in serious jeopardy after the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to slash a proposed rural broadband grant program appropriation by 73% — an amount that equals a whopping $22 million decrease.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) put $30 million in the Senate-passed Education Trust Fund budget for the state’s rural broadband grant program established last year by State Senator Clay Scofield’s (R-Guntersville) landmark broadband legislation.

However, the House-passed education budget hacked away at the broadband funding by almost three-fourths, dragging the total down from $30 million to only $8 million.

The reduction in funding for rural broadband comes at the same time the legislature is set to enact an innovative economic incentives package aimed at bringing well-paying, high-tech jobs to Alabama’s rural communities.

The state’s top economic developer for 2019 pointed out in a conversation with Yellowhammer News that broadband is critical to the effectiveness of those incentives.

“This [incentives package] will benefit the rural communities in Alabama,” said Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association. “A lot of tech can be done anywhere, especially if you have good internet service.”

The House’s vote to cut the grant program appropriation came shortly before the chamber passed Scofield’s SB 90 as amended on Tuesday, which beefs up his legislation that became law last year.

The education budget will head to a conference committee before the legislature adjourns sine die later this week.

Conferees will have a major decision to make: restore the funding or potentially watch high-speed internet access in the Yellowhammer State continue to lag behind.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News