$3 Million grant will extend internet service in rural alabama – news – tuscaloosa news – tuscaloosa, al electricity 101 episode 1


That was the point U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt made while speaking recently in Hamilton in rural northwest Alabama. And it’s why Aderholt invited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to visit his Alabama congressional district and bring a big check.

"While so much of America was living in the 20th century back in the 1930s and 1940s, my dad and so many in his generation in rural Alabama and rural Georgia and rural America were still living in the 19th century," the congressman said. "It took the (USDA’s) Rural Electrification Administration to change all that.

Gov. Kay Ivey said that some 842,000 people living in rural Alabama do not have access to broadband internet. That’s almost 20 percent of the state’s population living without what Aderholt and Perdue would describe as 21st century electricity.

"For too long, the people who have been making decisions who affect daily lives as rural America as some of that other part of the country," Aderholt said. "They recognize that rural America is out there. They know it’s out there somewhere. And they know there are needs for rural America. But it always seems to be something we’re going to do next year or next time."

The funds will be administered by the USDA and Perdue said the agency expects to begin receiving applications from state and local governments this summer. It will likely require matching funds in the manner of the grant provided to Tombigbee, which has already spent almost four times as much of its own money in the project as it received in federal funding.

Perdue, the former governor of Georgia before joining Trump’s Cabinet as agriculture secretary, lauded the work that Tombigbee is doing. The company has already established broadband connections in small towns such as Hamilton and Winfield and will use the USDA grant to expand it in areas of Brilliant — population: 900 — in Marion County.

Ultimately, Tombigbee president and CEO Steve Foshee wants to carry broadband connectivity to every household in the company’s four-county footprint of Marion, Winston, Fayette and Lamar — an objective, he acknowledged, as "an ambitious goal."

"Today, the connectivity we’re talking about is data connectivity. We need to be connected with one another from a data perspective and that’s exactly what (Tombigbee’s) ‘freedom Fiber’ does. You are the forerunners of what I hope to see all across the country. It is potentially one of the most transformative things I think of the 21st century we can see all across America to give all of rural America access to highest-speed broadband connectivity like Tombigbee has done. Thank you for leading the way."

"There’s really been created two Americas," Aderholt said. "One America where people have access to the best tools, access to high-speed broadband internet where they can educate their children, they can run and expand their business and they can access the latest medical technology and the latest expertise.

It’s a massive project. Foshee said that for Tombigbee to reach every household in its four-county region will cost about $40 million. So even as Perdue praised the work done already by Tombigbee — which has invested more than $10 million itself in installing broadband to be coupled with the $3 million federal grant — the work is not even halfway to completion.

"From the perspective of all of us who are here today, it’s hard to imagine anyone that could not see the importance of rural America and the role it plays in making our country great," Aderholt said. "We supply access to wholesome food that is among the lowest cost in the world. We provide cotton that and other crops that feed and clothe the world and we provide the hands of labor in manufacturing.