County broadband plans depend on Alabama legislature and voters

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County work could begin this summer on broadband projects funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars — but only if, during the special session, Alabama lawmakers approve a proposed plan. Broadband Amendment to the State Constitution.

Under the Alabama Constitution, a statewide vote on a proposed constitutional amendment can take place three months after the end of a legislative session. This means that if the legislature passes the proposed broadband amendment during the special session, voters will be able to consider its approval in the next primary election.

If counties are granted statutory authority to invest in broadband projects, the Alabama Association of County Commissions (ACCA) plans to spring into action to help counties authorize investments as quickly as possible. possible.

“Passing this amendment at the special session is critical as we work to expand internet access across the state by allowing counties to work with broadband providers,” said the executive director of ACCA, Sonny Brasfield. “Because the current constitution contains a specific provision prohibiting local governments from providing ‘thing of value’ to businesses, counties cannot use their federal funds to support broadband projects without this important amendment.”

Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Randall Shedd, who co-chairs the state’s Broadband Expansion Authority, are sponsoring the proposed amendment, which applies only to spending federal dollars and all funds from state provided to local governments specifically for broadband expansion. The ARPA program enacted by Congress in early 2021 encourages counties and cities to focus on funding projects in areas with no access or with service that does not meet minimum download speeds. By allowing ARPA Dollars recipients to match funds with broadband providers, the federal program encourages private investment in areas that would otherwise wait years to receive access.

“The proposed allocation of this one-time funding from ARPA has the potential to have a significant impact on the future of our state,” Scofield said. “This will not only provide aid and support for pandemic recovery, but will also allow us to invest in projects that will improve the quality of life for Alabamians for generations to come. Looking specifically at the money that will be invested in the process of broadband expansion, there will be tremendous opportunity to use innovative technology and resources to develop this vital digital infrastructure, ultimately strengthening our economy, producing more jobs and enabling Alabama to lead in a modern world. , economy of the 21st century.

“The passage of this amendment is imperative for the success of the work that has taken place over many years and for the decades of work that lie ahead. Our goal is to provide high-speed Internet service to every corner of the state – urban and rural. This amendment would go a long way towards achieving that goal by urging counties and cities to highlight funding for projects in these areas. In order to get those results and get it right, we need to pass this proposed amendment and send it to the people of Alabama for a vote.

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Shedd echoed Scofield’s comments, adding, “I hope we can get this important amendment passed in the Special Session so that high-speed internet can reach the people of Alabama, especially in areas more rural.”

In December, Alabama’s 67 counties unanimously approved expanding broadband to underserved areas of the state as a legislative priority for 2022. The priority to expand broadband access is one of many priorities this year for counties featured in the Alabama County Platform.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is a statewide organization that speaks for all 67 counties with ONE Voice. It promotes the improvement of county government services in Alabama, provides educational programs for county officials and their staff, administers insurance programs for county governments and employees, provides legal advice, and represents county government interests before state and federal organizations and agencies.

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