Eight electric cooperatives that have teamed up to build 3,000 miles of broadband fiber infrastructure to deliver internet access to Alabama’s disadvantaged communities have won an $82.4 million grant to get the job done.
“The Alabama Middle-Mile project—the infrastructure setting part of this journey—is going to lead our state to be the model for the nation when it comes to providing broadband capabilities,” said Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who awarded the grant to the Fiber Utility Network on Sept. 27 at Central Alabama Electric Cooperative in Prattville.
In addition to Central Alabama EC, co-ops in the network are: Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative, Covington Electric Cooperative, Cullman Electric Cooperative, Joe Wheeler EMC, North Alabama Electric Cooperative, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and Tombigbee Electric Cooperative. They plan to complete the middle-mile fiber build within three years.
“The project is the springboard to supplying broadband services for rural residents,” said Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which will administer the award.
“I commend the Fiber Utility Network for their willingness to undertake this necessary step to ensure more Alabamians have access to these services.”
By building the infrastructure needed by “last-mile” internet providers to hook up homes and businesses, the co-ops offer “more cost-effective and feasible ways to provide broadband service availability to residents in rural areas,” according to the governor’s office.
The Alabama legislature this year approved using a portion of the state’s funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to assist the co-ops’ middle-mile fiber build. Congress passed the sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in early 2021.
Tom Stackhouse, Central Alabama EC’s president and CEO and president of the Fiber Utility Network, thanked state officials “for the vision, leadership and assistance to make this a reality.”
“The eight electric cooperatives that make up the Fiber Utility Network are honored to be a part of building a middle mile network to bring internet service closer to those Alabamians,” he said.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.