MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Over the past two years, high-speed internet has been crucial for work, school and even seeing a doctor when meeting in person isn’t possible.
But 19% of Alabama homes can’t access the emerging definition for broadband, according to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
“The areas of the state that can’t deliver broadband high-speed communication honestly become dark areas for economic development,” Association of County Commissions of Alabama Executive Director Sonny Brasfield said.
Brasfield supports Amendment 2. The measure will appear on the November ballot, allowing local governments to partner with internet service providers to expand broadband infrastructure. Currently, the state constitution prohibits local governments from providing public funding to private companies.
“The way things have evolved with trying to provide broadband, the real incentives that government can provide to broadband companies make a real difference when they’re evaluating whether or not to deliver broadband into rural Alabama,” Brasfield said.
This comes as Alabama is preparing to allocate its second round of federal American Rescue Plan Act money — nearly $1 billion. Friday morning, Gov. Kay Ivey awarded nine grants totaling $26 million in state funds to 10 counties for expanded broadband services.
“We all understand, particularly after the pandemic, how important high-speed internet is for every community,” Rep. Randall Shedd (R – Baileyton) said.
Shedd sponsored the bill to put the amendment on the ballot. He says the ARPA money presents an opportunity to help connect rural Alabama, as long as the amendment passes.
“Our future, particularly in rural Alabama and some of our areas that’s not densely populated, this is just the only way we’re going to be able to get high speed internet into those areas, so please help us,” Shedd said.
This is one of 10 amendments on the ballot in November, and it will take a majority of votes for it to take effect.
The Alabama League of Municipalities also supports the change. Executive Director Greg Cochran said the ARPA money has instilled a sense of optimism in local leaders who, if the amendment passes, hope to be able to lay more infrastructure at a significantly lower cost.
“The outside world is all bundled in through this infrastructure — to watch your news and know what’s going on around the nation, around the world. So it’s vital that we get local citizens this opportunity to plug in and be able to have access to more job opportunities, better education and telemedicine,” Cochran said.