PRATTVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — Gov. Kay Ivey and several state leaders announced plans Tuesday to improve broadband access for all Alabamians.

Officials say the pandemic has proven just how important high-speed internet access is.

“Being able to be connected at home, at work and on the go is just absolutely necessary,” Ivey said.

Right now, 19% of homes in Alabama don’t have access to the speed of internet the state defines as broadband, according to ADECA’s connectivity plan.

The Alabama Middle-Mile Project aims to change that.

“Once connected it will give a whole lot more Alabama families the ability to opt to be customers to one of the last mile service providers,” Ivey said.

The plan is funded through $82 million of American Rescue Plan Act money allocated by the legislature. Eight electric cooperatives will partner to create a “middle-mile” broadband network connecting roughly 3,000 miles of existing and new fiber infrastructure over the next three years.

Greensboro teacher Kim Evans says online school has left students behind in rural areas who may not have the best connection.

“With the onset of the pandemic, our students haven’t had the resources needed to be proficient in all of the academic areas,” Evans said.

She’s hopeful this plan will improve learning outcomes and get kids back up to speed.

“Now with this initiative, we will have high speed internet and will allow them to do practice areas they need to work on, on the computer at home,” Evans said.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton says the project is a good step toward getting every Alabamians connected.

“We believe that over the years we’ll connect every home in the state of Alabama,” Singleton said.

Lawmakers say there will be more opportunity to fund broadband when they meet to allocate another round of ARPA funding, which will likely happen early next year when the session starts.