Senate Bills 123, 124 and 125 by Sen. Clay Scofield (Guntersville) passed the House Urban and Rural Development Committee this week. The measures are aimed at improving high-speed internet access in rural communities, something that would help communities attract jobs and help local businesses stay competitive.
The bills are awaiting final approval from the full House.
SB 123 would increase the minimum service threshold for internet speed, authorize the Alabama Digital Expansion Division chief to enter into nondisclosure agreements to protect provider-specific information and allow for all funds to be used to extend last-mile infrastructure, middle-mile, and line extension programs. Under existing law, the Alabama Digital Expansion Division is required to use 70 percent of funds received by the Connect Alabama Fund to extend last-mile infrastructure in unserved areas. The bill would also allow for the program funds to be modified annually by a recommendation from the Alabama Digital Expansion Division and approval by the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority.
SB 124 would permit the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to administer the broadband accessibility grant program to award grants to governmental and non-governmental entities for broadband services, 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, and require any federal or other funds expended by ADECA’s grant program to be distributed according to the statewide connectivity plan.
SB 125, meanwhile, is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow a state, county, or municipality to grant federal award funds to public and private entities to expand broadband infrastructure. If approved by the legislature, the amendment will be on the November 2022 ballot.