Cable Providers want more Rural Alabamians to have High-speed Internet for “New Normal”
Montgomery, AL (March 26, 2020) – Alabama Governor Kay Ivey's announcement today that Alabama’s K-12 schools should plan on finishing this academic year through alternate methods of instruction means hundreds of thousands of children will now depend on online instruction for the next two months. The closure of the state’s public education facilities is required to help stem the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama.
“Taking into account the events of the last three weeks, greater reliance on high-speed internet service from our homes has emerged almost overnight,” said Michelle Roth, Executive Director of the Alabama Cable and Broadband Association. “Fortunately for many Alabamians, high-speed or ‘broadband’ access already existed in the home. But for many who live in rural areas of the state, and for those who cannot afford broadband service, the spotlight exposed the absence of broadband in homes and small businesses.”
Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, Alabama cable providers rolled out no-cost and low-cost options for high-speed internet access to the state’s students and low-income populations hit hardest by closures and other impacts of the virus, Roth said. These efforts include offering free broadband and Wi-Fi access for up to 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students, extending low-cost broadband programs, opening Wi-Fi hotspots for public use, eliminating disconnections of internet service for customers having difficulty paying, and increasing internet speeds universally.
Even prior to the current public health crisis, Alabama’s cable providers had already been planning to invest more than $13 million to bring broadband telecommunications services to rural Alabama citizens who do not yet have high speed internet services. The investment would be incentivized through $4.67 million in grant funding from the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund (ABAF), a state fund established in 2018 to help extend broadband services to rural Alabamians who do not yet have them. If awarded, these ABAF grants, which can fund up to 35% of project costs to extend broadband technology, would enable the full $13 million cable provider broadband investment. These grant-funded projects would be in addition to the ongoing rural broadband investment being made by Alabama’s cable providers, Roth said.
For the current ABAF grant cycle, the 18 grants applied for by Alabama cable providers cover nearly 8,000 rural Alabama homes and businesses, including 35 community anchor locations such as rural hospitals and libraries. The grants seek to serve the highest number of unserved homes, businesses and community anchor points for the least cost and best level of service. Projects including the highest broadband speeds are emphasized in the evaluation process.
“Alabama’s cable companies have been providing broadband to rural consumers since the late 1990s, and we are proud to continue efforts to expand broadband service in rural areas. But bringing high-speed, broadband access to Alabama’s rural customers takes more than just cable provider investment. It takes all broadband providers across technology platforms working together for a common good as quickly and efficiently as we can,” Roth said.
“No stakeholders can say for sure how our economy and society will change as a result of the COVID-19 crisis; however, this much is clear: we must expedite our collective industry efforts to bring broadband to the state’s rural and low-income citizens, so that everyone has a chance at a much brighter future,” she said.
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Founded in 1965, the Alabama Cable and Broadband Association provides its members with a unified voice on issues affecting the cable and telecommunications industry, serving as the advocate for our cable providers, operators, suppliers and programmers. Alabama’s cable industry provides rural, urban and suburban broadband telecommunications services to residents and businesses across the state’s 67 counties. Cable providers employ more than 2,800 Alabamians, enable more than 24,000 direct and indirect jobs, and have a total economic impact in Alabama of $3.6 billion.