State-announced grants aim at broadband expansion in north Alabama

By: - August 15, 2023 1:27 pm
Tangles of blue wires, with yellow and orange wires mixed in.

Network cables are plugged in a server room on November 10, 2014 in New York City. (Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

The state will grant $7.86 million to two companies, Spectrum Southeast and Brindlee Mountain, to provide broadband access for residents and businesses in Blount, Cullman, Marshall and Morgan counties in northern Alabama.

“Alabama continues to make steady strides in expanding the reach of high-speed internet services to all Alabamians,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement Monday. “I appreciate the commitment of the Alabama Legislature in providing this much-needed funding that will enhance local education, improve the delivery of critical public safety services, and grow business opportunity.”

The grant money will expand broadband access to more than 6,700 households and businesses, as well as other places such as schools, libraries, fire and police stations, according to Ivey’s office.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) administers the Alabama Broadband Fund that provides the grants with money that the Alabama Legislature allocated for the projects.

“ADECA is pleased to be on board with a program that is resulting in life-changing improvements for so many Alabamians,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “We are appreciative of Gov. Ivey’s confidence in our department to enable us to participate in this program that has historical ramifications.”

According to a report from the Federal Communications Commission from December of 2021, about 83% of households in the state have internet speeds greater than 25Mbps, which is what is needed to have what is considered broadband access.

Alabama officials for years pushed for expanded broadband, but the efforts were stymied by uncertainties about where the greatest needs were. According to ADECA data, about 15% of Cullman and 20% of Blount are considered unserved by broadband. Numbers for Marshall were not available.

The biggest broadband deficits are in the western Black Belt and parts of rural east Alabama. According to ADECA, about 55% of Wilcox County in the Black is unserved by broadband. In Clay County in east Alabama, 46% of the county is unserved.

Expanding broadband access to different areas of the state has been one of the governor’s priorities because some of the more rural parts of Alabama have a difficult time accessing the internet at higher speeds.

According to a USA Today report from July 2021, at least 76% of residents in 34 of 66 counties in Alabama have broadband access, though only 18% had access to high-speed internet.

The money will go to the companies that applied for the grants to build the needed infrastructure for expanding broadband access to areas that don’t have it.

About $3.84 million will go to Spectrum Southeast to expand broadband access to parts of Marshall and Blount counties, including areas in or around the town of Susan Moore and the McClarty community.

Roughly $1.84 million for Spectrum Southeast will provide broadband access to towns in Blount County such as those near County Line, Hayden and Locust Fork.

Another $2.18 million to Brindlee Mountain to provide access to the town of Arab and the communities of Hopewell in Blount County; Union Grove in Marshall County and Joppa and West Point in Cullman.

“We are certainly grateful the governor is putting money into Cullman County to expand broadband here,” said John Bullard, the administrator for Cullman County, one of the areas that will benefit from the grant money.

The lack of broadband has limited expansion and growth in those communities, Bullard said.

“There are certain areas that desperately need it,” Bullard said. “As a growing county that is one the vital pieces of infrastructure that people and businesses require.”

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.