Federal funds and other revenue sources could be tapped to address ongoing deficiencies in broadband infrastructure, based on a pair of duplicate bills working through both chambers of the Alabama legislature.
The pair of bills in their draft state call for a constitutional amendment that, if ratified, would give each unit of government – the state, counties or municipalities – the authority to allocate financial resources toward broadband expansion under a mixture of different scenarios.
The proposed constitutional amendment includes a clause, “The state, a county or a municipality is authorized to grant federal award funds or any other source of funding designated for broadband infrastructure by state law to any public or private entity for the purpose of providing or expanding broadband infrastructure.”
Another passage within the amendment adds, “The granting of funds by a county or a municipality to a private entity pursuant to this section must be approved at a public meeting held by the appropriate county or municipality.”
Deficiencies in broadband infrastructure – particularly in Alabama’s rural areas – has been an ongoing topic of discussion during the pandemic, where more adults and students have been taking classes and working virtually.
Scofield and Shedd have been discussing broadband expansion this past year, in advance of introducing the legislation.
Last summer, Scofield shared his views on the issue in a news release detailing his chairmanship of the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority.
“Providing high-speed Internet to rural and unserved communities in Alabama has been one of my top priorities since I was first elected to the Senate over a decade ago,” Scofield said in a statement.
He added, “We have witnessed our state transform into an economic powerhouse over the years, cultivating industrial expansion, job growth, technological advancements and much more.”
In a radio interview in early December, Shedd shared his hope for allocating some of the federal COVID-19 relief funding toward broadband expansion.
The goal, he said, “is to identify how we can remove some of the barriers and streamline some of the process. We’re not going to get it all out of the way, but if we can identify what those barriers are, and streamline the process and get it to people faster, it’s something we’d like to do.”
With supply chain interruptions and labor shortages ongoing issues, Shedd conceded a full rollout of the expansion plan could take time.
“We’ve got some challenges to try and deal with,” he said. “But we also have the opportunity of a lifetime.”
HB2 currently is in the House Urban and Rural Development Committee. SB3 is under review in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee.
The bills were introduced Jan. 19.
This article was originally posted on Alabama lawmakers introduce bills aimed at expanding broadband in underserved areas of the state