MONTGOMERY — A bill that would allow electric utility companies to offer high-speed internet to rural communities by way of their existing power networks cleared the Alabama Legislature Wednesday and now goes to the governor for her signature.
Supporters say House Bill 400 would alleviate the cost of running new fiber lines to rural areas by allowing utilities such as Alabama Power Co., the Tennessee Valley Authority and regional electric cooperatives to piggyback their existing networks with high-speed cable lines.
“I’m so excited about all the people of Alabama having a means of getting broadband,” sponsor Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, said
He said in some rural parts of the state, electric co-ops will begin broadband work within two years.
“I’m hoping in my district, it gets covered within two years,” said Shedd, whose district includes portions of Cullman, Morgan, Marshall and Blount counties.
Separately, the state’s proposed 2020 education budget that’s awaiting final approval by the Legislature includes $30 million in potential grants to expand broadband internet access.
Ike Pigott, spokesman for Alabama Power, said the bill would allow the company to bring broadband to previously unserved ares.
“Alabama Power is excited to see this transformative piece of legislation that supports innovative ways to elevate the state and improve lives by connecting our schools, hospitals and communities with the rest of the world,” Pigott said.
If approved by the House and signed by the governor, that money would fund a program enacted last year that helps subsidize the cost of internet providers running fiberoptic lines to rural areas.
Alabama Daily News reporter Caroline Beck contributed to this report.