The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to encourage the expansion of rural broadband following a press conference Wednesday on the State House steps by the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition (ARBC).
The ARBC includes about 25 organizations, including Alabama Farmers Federation. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth was among those who spoke at the event.
“Our purpose in why we’re here today is to let everyone know we are dedicated to addressing the infrastructure problem that we have in our state that keeps many people and businesses in Alabama from sharing in the 21st century economy. Access to fast, reliable internet service is critical to our state’s economic viability,” he said. “Our economy is strong, but we can do better, especially in rural parts of Alabama.”
The House promptly passed HB 400 by Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, Thursday by a 92-2 vote. It would allow electric providers to use existing easements for construction, installation, operation and use of broadband systems. Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, is expected to carry the bill in the Senate.
Meanwhile, SB 90 by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill, received a favorable report from the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee Wednesday. Scofield championed the Alabama Rural Broadband Act of 2018, which provides grants for the expansion of high-speed internet.
SB 90 would increase the maximum covered project cost under the grant program and change the definition of an “unserved area.” It also would update the minimum service threshold and broaden the permitted use of federal support, including loans and grants, in projects receiving grants under the legislation.