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Beth Chapman: Broadband expansion is on the way

Last week, the Alabama Senate passed three bills sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield, the Senate majority leader. The legislation allows the expansion of broadband access across our state. This is much needed news for many in Alabama – especially in our rural areas and for our small businesses and school-aged children. For too many years there has been a digital divide in our state, and now relief is on the way.

Approximately one-fifth of Alabama households don’t have access to the internet, and many others don’t have high-speed internet.

Sen. Scofield has long been an advocate and championed the need for expanding broadband infrastructure and providing high-speed internet services throughout our state.

Scofield chairs The Alabama Digital Expansion Authority. He and his colleagues on the authority recently announced the Alabama Broadband Map. The map displays a detailed account of internet coverage as it exists in Alabama. Obviously, there is much room for coverage improvement.

State Rep. Randall Shedd of Fairview will be carrying the legislation in the House of Representatives. Between him and Sen. Scofield, who both live in rural areas of the state, they will get it done. Both legislators have dedicated much time, energy and effort to this cause and are to be commended for their work.

There are federal funds we can utilize to expand broadband, and there could be a constitutional amendment on our November ballot if it passes both chambers of the Legislature. If approved by voters, the legislation would allow grants from cities and counties to assist with broadband expansion.

Alabama received approximately $1.7 billion from ARPA funds (a pandemic relief bill passed by congress). The Legislature approved the money to be used for the expansion of broadband across the state and for water and sewer projects.

Recently, the legislature approved another $277 million of the money allotted to the state from ARPA for broadband expansion. There are also incentives for companies to provide broadband to unserved areas of our state as well.

The state will receive another $1 billion in ARPA funding later this year. Sen. Scofield wants 50 percent of that to go toward expanding broadband. Hopefully, all these measures will help our state enter the 21st century — and not a moment too soon.

Beth Chapman is Alabama’s former State Auditor and 51st Secretary of State. She now owns and operates Beth Chapman & Associates, LLC. This is her weekly column, “Around the Capitol” published in newspapers and blogs across the state. She can be reached at [email protected].

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