Legislation aimed at expanding access to high-speed internet services passed the House Ways and Means Education Committee Wednesday.
SB 149 by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill, would provide grants to companies investing in broadband infrastructure. The Senate unanimously approved the measure last month with language calling for tax incentives to spur investment by internet providers. Sponsors of the bill changed to the grant structure after meeting with stakeholders.
“Expanding rural broadband access is vital to economic development, education and other essential services,” said Alabama Farmers Federation House Legislative Programs Director David Cole. “We appreciate Sen. Scofield, House Ways and Means Education Committee Chair Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and House sponsor Rep. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, working together to move this important legislation forward.”
The Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act would task the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) with awarding the grants. Individual grants would be capped at 20 percent of the cost of approved broadband infrastructure projects, not to exceed $750,000 for transmission speeds of 10 megabits download and one megabit upload. Projects supporting 25-megabit download and three-megabit upload speeds could qualify for up to $1.4 million.
The bill would require 40 percent of grant funds to be spent for internet services in unincorporated areas of the state. Funding for the grants could come from legislative appropriations or federal initiatives. The bill would create the Alabama Rural Broadband Oversight Committee to ensure efficient and effective use of funds.
The full House could vote on SB 149 as early as next week. If approved, it would go back to the Senate for concurrence. (Federation Supports)