As the principal of Cordova Elementary School, I know how access to high-speed internet is critical for educating our students. I’ve seen first-hand how inadequate internet service hinders our children as we work to prepare them to thrive in the 21st-century world that we live in and, to be totally honest, I am worried about my students.

We’re located in a rural part of Walker County and the unfortunate truth for many of our students, and thousands of others across the state, is that they don’t have access to reliable internet at home.

This problem was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, when our classes had to be held virtually and many of our students struggled to keep up with their online learning because of poor connection to broadband at their homes. That’s frustrating for students, parents, teachers and administrators alike. No student deserves to fall behind because of where they live.

That’s why I support Senate Bill 215, which will help to significantly expand high-speed broadband internet to rural, unserved, and underserved areas across our state.

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Senate Bill 215 gives us hope for a permanent solution to this digital divide we are seeing in our state. The legislation aims to expand high-speed broadband internet across Alabama by creating the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority, which will control the use of future broadband funds and, importantly, implement a plan for expanding high-speed broadband networks and services throughout the state (including the rural, unserved and underserved areas that need it most). Currently, Alabama is the only state in the southeast without an official plan in place to expand broadband solutions.

Using the internet easily and without worry is something that many Alabamians probably take for granted. However, those of us living in rural towns understand our state’s digital divide all too well; Alabama is ranked 47th in broadband connectivity, 73% of our population doesn’t have access to an affordable internet plan, and 20% don’t have access to high-speed internet at all. In our 21st-century education system, education depends upon the internet. We’re not setting our students up for success if we can’t provide this vital tool for learning.

SB 215 will be a huge step toward investing in education and in our students as well as enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians. We can’t wait another minute to extend this crucial piece of infrastructure to the areas of the state in need. By making high-speed broadband available to all our students, we can help set them up for success in and out of the classroom.

Dianne Williams serves as the principal of Cordova Elementary