With $62M from Feds, Broadband Spreads Like Kudzu

USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy delivers remarks at the ReConnect Pilot Program announcement in Hamilton, Alabama.

Be it cityscape or countryside, Alabama’s landscape often struggles with such challenges as a lack of dependable infrastructure and an entirely too narrow information superhighway.

So it was great news in early December when a series of announcements, taken together, indicated a total of $62 million in loans and grants to improve high-speed internet in 11 Alabama counties.

C Spire, joined by Alabama Power and a host of state and local officials, said it planned a major expansion of broadband services that will bring high-speed internet to large areas of metropolitan Birmingham and Shelby County. C Spire also plans to make the city of Jasper in northwest Alabama one of its first broadband markets in 2020.

“This is a great investment in the future of Birmingham and our metro area,” says Mayor Randall Woodfin. “In Birmingham, we are committed to creating an inclusive economy that provides the best opportunities in education, workforce development and entrepreneurship for everyone.”

On the more rural side of the internet divide, Tombigbee Communications on Dec. 5 announced it had snagged $29.4 million as a 50 percent loan-grant combination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Pilot Program.

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The company, a subsidiary of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, will use the funds to boost and extend fiber optic internet to 1,100 square miles of unserved areas in Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Franklin, Winston and Walker counties in northwest Alabama.

The investment is anticipated to reach 2,152 households, 20 farms, 15 businesses, 10 critical community facilities, five educational facilities and one health care facility. The money covers construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

“Beyond connecting us to our friends and family, high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is a necessity to do business, access opportunities in education, and receive specialized health care in rural America today. It is a necessity, not an amenity,” says USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy.

Residents of the grant-funded areas can expect construction to begin in spring 2020. Through the ReConnect Pilot Program, USDA has invested a total of $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure, including:

  • Millry Telephone Company Inc., a $28.1 million 50 percent loan-grant combination.
  • Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc., a $1.9 million loan.
  • National Telephone of Alabama Inc., a $2.6 million 50 percent loan-grant combination.

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