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State goes the extra ‘middle mile’ for high-speed internet in the valley

CAMDEN – More North Alabama residents will soon find an easier on-ramp to the internet superhighway, thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act and the Alabama Digital Expansion Division.

Grants for more than $188 million were awarded Monday to continue the expansion of high-speed internet access in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey announced.

A dozen internet service providers – including five providers in the Tennessee Valley – will share $188,453,905, to install more than 4,000 miles of “middle-mile” projects throughout Alabama, Ivey said. Middle-mile projects help fill the gap in broadband expansion to make it more economically feasible and less labor intensive for providers to extend services to unserved businesses and households in the state.

Ivey made the announcement from the Alabama Anchor Institution/Middle Mile Grant Program in her hometown of Camden. Wilcox County and other rural counties are among the areas in Alabama where the middle-mile projects will be completed.

“Rural Alabama, like so many other places in the state, is in need of increased access to high-speed internet, and today we are taking a significant stride in our journey toward full broadband access,” said Ivey. “These middle-mile projects will be extremely beneficial to our anchor institutions, and it puts us in a desirable situation where the ‘last mile’ projects that will supply broadband service to businesses and households are more economical and attainable.”

Anchor institutions include schools, hospitals and medical facilities and government and public safety buildings. Many are located on or near the middle-mile routes and more than 790 will be served by the projects.

“In the 21st century, access to affordable, high-speed internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and one that many Alabamians have gone without for far too long,” said Rep. Terri Sewell. “I was thrilled to help make this funding available through the American Rescue Plan and I applaud Governor Ivey and Director Boswell for making these investments. I will continue working to ensure that this funding reaches those who need it most.”

Funding for the latest middle-mile program came from an allocation made by the Legislature from the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act Funds. Sewell (D-Birmingham) was the lone Alabama congressional representative for vote for the bill.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will administer the program through its Digital Expansion Division. The division was established by the Legislature and Ivey to focus on high-speed internet expansion in the state.

“ADECA is pleased to be involved in this broadband-expansion effort that will benefit so many people and improve lives,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “I am grateful to Governor Ivey and the Alabama Legislature for having the confidence to entrust ADECA with this all-important program.”

The five North Alabama recipients are:

  • Cullman Electric Cooperative
    $1.46 million to install middle-mile connections in various areas of Cullman County to include 15 anchor institutions and cover 106 miles.
  • Farmers Telecommunications Corp.
    $21.6 million to provide two middle-mile fiber routes in Blount, Etowah, Jefferson and Marshall counties totaling 155 miles and connecting 189 anchor institutions.
  • Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp.
    $5.25 million to provide more than 20 miles of middle-mile infrastructure in the Courtland area in Lawrence County and affecting 16 anchor institutions.
  • Point Broadband
    $411,341 to provide a middle-mile project in Blount County totaling 12.4 miles and impacting 21 anchor institutions.
  • Tombigbee Electric Cooperative
    $757,479 to provide a middle-mile project of nearly 50 miles in Winston County and affecting 22 anchor institutions.

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