The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday to enhance the Alabama Rural Broadband Act approved last year.
SB 90 by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill, would change the definition of an “unserved area,” increase the percentage of project costs eligible for funding, and broaden the permitted use of other federal and state support, including loans and grants.
The measure would increase the minimum service threshold for broadband to 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload. An unserved area would be defined as any rural area not served by at least one terrestrial broadband service providing the minimum level.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is charged with administering the rural broadband grant program. SB 90 would allow grants to cover 50% of project costs, up from 20%. The bill also allows the state grants to be combined with federal funding, not to exceed 90% of project costs.
In addition, SB 90 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 would be limited to 40% of total grants appropriated annually.
SB 90 passed 27-0 and has been referred to the House Ways and Means Education Committee.