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Alabama Amendment 2: Cities and counties could use federal funds for broadband expansion

Statewide Amendment 2 on next week’s general election ballot would pave the way for counties and cities to use federal funds to help bring high-speed internet access to more homes and businesses.

Amendment 2 is one of 10 statewide amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot. The Legislature has passed bills to submit the proposals to voters, who will decide whether or not to add them to the Alabama Constitution.

About 19% of addresses in Alabama do not have broadband access as defined by the state, according to the Alabama Broadband Map and the Alabama Connectivity Plan developed by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

Alabama lawmakers and Governor Kay Ivey have been saying for several years that closing these gaps is critical for work and for education, points reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state received an infusion of federal funds to help fill the gaps through the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress last year. ARPA allocated $2.1 billion to the Alabama state government, plus $952 million to Alabama counties and $787 million to municipalities. Congress said the money could be used for broadband expansion.

Public-private partnerships or subsidies for broadband are important because they can allow companies to extend fiber optic cable to areas where there are not enough potential customers to make the investment otherwise feasible.

But Section 94 of the Alabama Constitution prohibits counties and municipalities from providing grant funds to private businesses. Amendment 2 would provide an exception to this prohibition.

“The core of the entire broadband structure across the country, not just Alabama, is providing financial incentives for companies to provide broadband in areas where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to scale,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. said earlier this year. “It means you give money, you give something of value, to an entity. So we need to amend the constitution to allow counties to do that.

The ACCA contributed to the passage of the spearhead of the legislation proposing the amendment, which is also supported by the League of Alabama Municipalities.

Representative Randall Shedd, a Republican from Cullman County, and Senator Clay Scofield, a Republican from Guntersville, sponsored the bill that put Amendment 2 on the ballot. It was passed by both houses without a dissenting vote.

The amendment says; “The state, county, or municipality is authorized to make federal funds or other designated funding sources for broadband infrastructure by state law to any public or private entity for the purpose of providing or expand broadband infrastructure.

The amendment requires such grants to be approved at a public meeting of the county commission or city council.

Related: Alabama counties seek change in state constitution to use federal COVID funds for broadband

High-speed internet in Alabama: State provides $82 million for ‘mid-mile’ network