The future of tiny Brilliant, Alabama, just got brighter with a clear path to broadband.
Thanks to Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, state leadership and funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, residents of a rural community beset by persistent poverty will soon have the fastest internet service available.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Thursday presented a $2.98 million grant to Steve Foshee, president and CEO of the electric co-op and its broadband subsidiary, Tombigbee Communications, in an event crowded with elected officials and residents in Hamilton, Alabama.
“To compete in today’s global marketplace, we must remove the infrastructure gaps in rural communities,” said Perdue, who lauded Tombigbee’s participation in the USDA grant program and encouraged others to follow.
“We want more … partners like Tombigbee across the country to participate.”
The award comes from the Community Connect Broadband Grant Program under the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. The grant will help extend freedom FIBER, the co-op’s ultra-high-speed fiber optic service, into the town of Brilliant. Construction will begin in July, and residential service will start in October.
Residential customers may choose upload/download speeds of 100/100 megabits per second, or 1/1 gigabits per second. Businesses will receive 10 gigabit services, according to the co-op.
The USDA grant will help Tombigbee deliver fiber-to-the-home across 80 square miles of rural Marion County and provide 1 gigabit service to more than 425 homes, Foshee said.
In addition to connecting homes and businesses with freedom FIBER, Tombigbee will deliver service to a community center for people to use free of charge as part of the grant’s requirements.
USDA is accepting applications through May 14 for Community Connect grants from $100,000 to $3 million for state and local governments, federally recognized tribes, nonprofits and for-profit corporations.
The co-op already is delivering broadband to Hamilton and nearby Winfield. So far, the co-op has invested more than $10 million into broadband and built more than 400 miles of fiber line, Foshee said.
“We have another 1,600 miles to go,” said Foshee. “We intend to get to every home at the end of the line in the most rural part of northwest Alabama.”
Foshee thanked Perdue, USDA, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the Alabama Legislature and Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., for their support of delivering broadband to a community where nearly a quarter of its residents live in poverty.
“Bringing broadband access to rural homes and businesses in 2018 is comparable to bringing electricity to rural homes and businesses in the 1930s—it is a critical necessity that we are honored and fortunate to provide,” said Foshee.
Aderholt called access to high-speed internet “just as important to a high quality of life as electricity, water and sewer.” The governor agreed. “The internet is vital to economic development, health care, education, and to be honest, all areas of our modern life,” said Ivey.