BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Hundreds of county and state officials are in Birmingham coming up with a unified plan regarding statewide broadband internet access heading into January’s legislative session.
Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth said the state wants everyone to have access to high-speed broadband – more specifically they’re focusing their efforts on rural Alabama. It’s going to take a unified approach, and leaders say they want to get it right.
“We sometimes get more calls about can you help me get broadband to my house than we do can you fill a pothole in my road,” Elmore County Commissioner Bart Mercer said. “Help educate your citizens to understand that investment in those dollars is very important, just as it is important to resurface a road.”
Mercer said Elmore County is likely the only county in the state to do a broadband accessibility study. He said they have been using it as a tool for the last 18 months to attract investment by broadband providers to expand access.
“Any information we can get provided helps us make a more educated decision about where’s the best investment of those dollars to get it to people quickly,” Ainsworth said.
According to Ainsworth, the state is looking at how best to incentivize companies, by targeting money from the American Rescue Plan to rural communities.
Executive director of The Association of the County Commissions of Alabama, Sonny Brasfield, said a unified approach across the state would make the process more efficient.
“What I hope we’ll do in Alabama is evaluate the options very closely and try to use our money in a more strategic way so that we don’t just keep up, but that we get ahead,” Brasfield said.
According to Brasfield, the federal internet speed requirement is 100 megabytes per second, download and upload speed.
Mercer said from the study, the county learned that better access to broadband would help nearly half of the community.
Ainsworth said the state will start allocating money for broadband in January and he is hopeful to have projects on the ground in May and June to start getting it to people who need it.