MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama State Senate today approved three pieces of legislation sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) that would modify the process of broadband expansion across the state. This package includes three bills – SB123, SB124, and SB125.
“Broadband expansion across Alabama has been a work in progress for several years; it is not a process that started yesterday. As times change, so must the process,” said Scofield. “Our goal is to deliver high-speed internet access to every unserved and underserved community in this state. I wish we could provide that access today to all Alabamians, but this is a monumental process that will take a considerable amount of time. In order to get broadband expansion right and provide the best quality results to the people of Alabama, we must utilize the finest tools and resources, study the most accurate data, and we certainly have to be open-minded and willing to identify opportunities for modifications throughout the process.
“I can assure Alabamians that every lawmaker, public official, and agency involved is dedicated and determined to accomplish this goal to the best of our abilities, and these bills passed today in the Senate will be beneficial in enabling us to do so,” Scofield continued. “I appreciate my colleagues for their collaborative work and support on these bills, and I look forward to seeing their swift passage in the House. I hope to have this package on Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for signature as soon as possible so that we can continue, full speed ahead, in our efforts to make this vision a reality.”
Background on bills:
Under the Connect Alabama Act of 2021, the minimum service threshold for Internet is defined as the minimum speed necessary to meet certain federal requirements. This bill would increase the minimum service threshold for Internet and would authorize the Alabama Digital Expansion Division chief to enter into nondisclosure agreements to protect provider-specific information unless release of the information is expressly authorized by the service provider.
SB123 would also allow for all funds received by the Connect Alabama Fund to be used to extend last-mile infrastructure in unserved areas and for middle mile and line extension programs. The bill would permit program funds to be modified annually by recommendation from the Alabama Digital Expansion Division and approval by the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority.
This bill would revise the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) Broadband Accessibility Grant program and its application process. SB124 would enable government entities to participate in the program and would require an entity to have contributed its statewide broadband service availability information to the Alabama broadband mapping program over the past year to qualify for a grant.
It would also increase the minimum service threshold for high-speed broadband services from 25 to 100 megabits per second of download speed and from three to 100 megabits per second of upload speed.
This bill proposes a constitutional amendment which, if ratified, would allow a state, county, or municipality to grant federal award funds or any other source of funding designated for broadband infrastructure to any public or private entity for the purpose of providing or expanding broadband infrastructure. Additionally, this bill would require any such grant funds to a private entity from a county or municipality to be approved at a public meeting.
“I was happy to support this innovative package of legislation that would take another significant step toward expanding high-speed, affordable broadband internet service to all families, job creators, and communities across Alabama,” said Senate President Pro Tem Reed (R-Jasper). “Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield should be commended for his continued leadership on this vital issue, and I applaud my colleagues for their diligence and attention to this effort. This legislation would increase the responsiveness of broadband expansion in meeting local needs statewide, and it would also ensure that the service being expanded is truly high-speed. Broadband access is crucial to 21st century life and Alabama’s modern economy, and I am proud to continue fighting alongside the members of the Senate to end the digital divide.”
SB123, 124, and 125 passed with overwhelming support in the Senate. These bills now head to the House of Representatives for deliberation.