PRATTVILLE — Two Trump administration officials and U.S. Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) gathered on Friday to announce a $37 million investment by the federal government in rural Alabama’s internet access.
The investment comes in the form of grants and loans to internet providers that make expanding high-speed service to more rural customers economically feasible.
According to the USDA, the investment announced Friday will provide high-speed internet to more than 28,000 people across over 11,100 households, including 432 farms.
The two Trump administration officials present for the announcement on Friday were United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development Bette Brand and USDA Rural Development State Director Chris Beeker.
“When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” said Brand at the announcement, which was hosted by Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and emceed with efficiency by Beeker.
Six companies will split the $37 million, which will be distributed via both grants and loans. The customers receiving the upgraded internet service are in a 14-county stretch of central Alabama to the north and west of Montgomery.
The funding comes from the second round of the federal government’s ReConnect program, which was recently infused with an extra $100 billion under the CARES Act.
ReConnect is run by the USDA and is tasked with evaluating and selecting applications by rural broadband providers that want public funds to help allay the cost of providing high-speed service to more people.
Alabama received the fourth-most funding of any state in round one of the program, a big portion of which was announced in Hamilton in late 2019.
The USDA detailed each new investment it is making as follows:
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative will use a $8.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 13,853 people, 149 farms, 77 businesses and one fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Bibb, Chilton, Perry, Autauga, Talladega, Elmore and Coosa counties in Alabama.
- Millry Telephone Company Inc. will use a $8.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,444 people, 84 farms, 46 businesses, four fire stations and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Choctaw and Washington counties in Alabama.
- Pine Belt Telephone Company Inc. will use a $6.5 million ReConnect grant and a $6.5 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 5,799 people, 143 farms, 83 businesses, five fire stations, five educational facilities and four post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Perry, Hale and Marengo counties in Alabama.
- Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative Inc. will use a $5.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,546 people, 36 farms, 19 businesses and three fire stations to high-speed broadband internet in Crenshaw, Lowndes and Montgomery counties in Alabama.
- Hayneville Telephone Company Inc. will use a $1.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,481 people, 19 farms, nine businesses, and four educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Lowndes County, Alabama.
- Moundville Telephone Co. Inc. will use a $166,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 111 people and a farm to high-speed broadband internet in Hale County, Alabama.
Palmer, who has constituents that will be provided better internet because of the announced grants, spoke at the event on Friday.
“Having grown up in rural Alabama, I know how important this is,” he remarked.
Palmer was raised in Hackleburg, current population of 1,466, a small town in Marion County.
“We have a chance to revitalize rural economies, especially around small towns,” he added about the impact of investing in rural broadband.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate echoed that sentiment after the event, telling reporters that quality internet gives communities such as his home of Lowndes County a shot at cutting down on the population loss that affects so many rural areas.
“Connectivity is critically important for families, businesses, farms, and public safety and community services – particularly during a time when remote access is paramount,” said U.S. Senator Shelby (R-AL) in a statement on Friday.
He added, “These USDA grants will help provide high-speed internet access to thousands of Alabamians in rural areas. I am proud that the Administration has awarded this $37 million investment to our state and look forward to the benefits it will bring to 14 counties in central Alabama.”
Beeker, in his remarks, praised the “great partnerships and incredible teamwork” that was necessary to pull off such a large project.
“A lot of work has gone into all of this; these are good programs. What Bette says, it really means a lot when you stop and think about it. When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Beeker concluded.
Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: email@example.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.