The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed three pieces of legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) aimed at expanding broadband access across the state.
Scofield, who has spearheaded legislative efforts to modernize the state’s broadband infrastructure, touched on the ambitious undertaking of delivering high-speed internet services to all corners of the Yellowhammer State.
“Broadband expansion across Alabama has been a work in progress for several years; it is not a process that started yesterday,” advised Scofield. “As times change, so must the process. Our goal is to deliver high-speed internet access to every unserved and underserved community in this state. I wish we could provide that access today to all Alabamians, but this is a monumental process that will take a considerable amount of time.”
The Alabama Digital Expansion Authority (ADEA), chaired by Scofield, in January unveiled the Alabama Broadband Map. The comprehensive map provides a detailed breakdown of internet service coverage levels currently held by households across the state.
“In order to get broadband expansion right and provide the best quality results to the people of Alabama, we must utilize the finest tools and resources, study the most accurate data, and we certainly have to be open-minded and willing to identify opportunities for modifications throughout the process,” continued the senator.
“I can assure Alabamians that every lawmaker, public official, and agency involved is dedicated and determined to accomplish this goal to the best of our abilities, and these bills passed today in the Senate will be beneficial in enabling us to do so,” added Scofield. “I appreciate my colleagues for their collaborative work and support on these bills, and I look forward to seeing their swift passage in the House. I hope to have this package on Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for signature as soon as possible so that we can continue, full speed ahead, in our efforts to make this vision a reality.”
Senate Bill 123 increases the minimum service threshold for internet speed. Under the Connect Alabama Act of 2021, the minimum service threshold for internet is defined as the minimum speed necessary to meet certain federal requirements. Additionally, the bill would authorize the Alabama Digital Expansion Division head to enter into nondisclosure agreements with internet service providers to ensure the protection of provider-specific information unless the publication of such information is granted.
According to a release, the legislation would also permit funds received by the Connect Alabama Fund to be utilized for the extension of last-mile infrastructure in unserved areas and for middle mile and line extension programs. If enacted, the bill would allow program funds to be adjusted annually by recommendation from the ADEA and Alabama Digital Expansion Division.
Senate Bill 124 would modify the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) Broadband Accessibility Grant program and its application process. The bill would make way for government entities to participate in the program. Under the legislation, for such an entity to qualify for a grant, it would have had to contribute its statewide broadband service availability information to the Alabama broadband mapping program over the past year.
Furthermore, the bill would increase the minimum service threshold for high-speed broadband services from 25 to 100 megabits per second of download speed and from three to 100 megabits per second of upload speed.
Senate Bill 125 is a proposal of a constitutional amendment which would allow a state, county or municipality to grant federal funds or any other broadband infrastructure-related funds to a public or private entity for the sole purpose of expanding high-speed internet services. If ratified, the bill would mandate that any such funding granted to a private entity from a county or municipality be approved at a public meeting.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) hailed the work of Scofield in leading broadband expansion efforts and applauded the body for its passage of the legislation.
“I was happy to support this innovative package of legislation that would take another significant step toward expanding high-speed, affordable broadband internet service to all families, job creators, and communities across Alabama,” stated Reed. “Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield should be commended for his continued leadership on this vital issue, and I applaud my colleagues for their diligence and attention to this effort.”
Reed concluded, “This legislation would increase the responsiveness of broadband expansion in meeting local needs statewide, and it would also ensure that the service being expanded is truly high-speed. Broadband access is crucial to 21st century life and Alabama’s modern economy, and I am proud to continue fighting alongside the members of the Senate to end the digital divide.”
The package now heads to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration where it will be carried by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview).
Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL