After successfully passing the Alabama Rural Broadband Act last year, Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill, won final passage of legislation this session to improve the measure.
SB 90 changes the definition of an “unserved area,” increases the percentage of project costs eligible for funding and broadens the permitted use of other federal and state support, including loans and grants.
The measure increases the minimum service threshold for broadband to 25 megabits-per-second download speed and 3 megabits-per-second upload. An unserved area is defined as any rural area not served by at least one terrestrial broadband service providing the minimum level.
SB 90 allows grants to cover 35% of project costs, up from 20%, or $1.5 million for projects capable of transmitting broadband signals at or above the minimum service threshold. The bill also allows the state grants to be combined with federal funding, not to exceed 60% of project costs.
In addition, the legislation allows grants to be provided for “middle mile” projects needed to bring enhanced broadband to unserved areas. It also allows a specific hospital, public school, public safety, or economic development site in a rural area to qualify even if not technically in an unserved location. Grants for these special circumstances are limited to 40% of total grants appropriated annually.