Continue broadband expansion

This is the fourth in a series of reports from Shedd on issues he is focusing on in the upcoming 2020 legislative session.

Can you imagine being without “city water” or electricity?

One day, we’ll be saying the same about broadband/high-speed Internet. Broadband is an issue I’ve been championing since arriving in Montgomery. Finally, this past year we passed meaningful legislation (HB 400 and SB 90) that is going to transform our area and our state in just a few years.

Game changer

Getting true high-speed Internet at a reasonable price to all areas, including rural Alabama, is a game changer for our state. The impact of the opportunity is so great – telemedicine for our senior citizens and all other citizens, for example; education for our children; and being able to do business anywhere and everywhere. Even today, it is difficult to sell real estate without it. It impacts all ages.

You may have read recently about our area receiving grants to expand internet in the Smith Lake area. This came about through legislation (SB 90) sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield of Guntersville. Hopefully, our internet carriers in our area will apply for these state grants to expand broadband.

The other broadband legislation we passed last year (HB 400) authorizes electricity providers to use their existing and future power lines, rights-of-way, and infrastructure to partner with companies to provide or expand broadband telecommunications services or to actually be in the business themselves.

I was honored to sponsor this legislation along with co-sponsor Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter of Rainsville in the House and Sen. Steve Livingston of Scottsboro in the Senate and a large rural broadband coalition that developed and helped get it passed, which included Gov. Ivey and House and Senate leadership.

Other projects

I am proud that Joe Wheeler Electric Cooperative is using the new law to provide high-speed internet and telephone services in Morgan and Lawrence counties. Their membership voted by more than 93 percent to provide this service in their areas. A game changer!

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative in the Prattville area has already announced they are getting into the business using HB 400. Tombigbee Electric Cooperative in the Hamilton area is a trailblazer on this issue, using USDA funding, state grants, and HB 400 to transform their service area with high-speed internet.

I know many others are doing feasibility studies, and I hope we see other announcements in the near future. Continued broadband expansion is an issue I will stay focused on. I believe in five years, we will see significant coverage. The two broadband legislative bills we passed last year will encourage competition. We are already seeing the private sector providers improve their existing customer base and expand to try to get ahead of the competition. In 10 years, I think almost anybody that needs broadband can get it.

Just as with electricity and “city water” in rural areas, broadband for everybody won’t happen overnight, but because of the legislation we passed last year, it will get to everybody much sooner.

I worked hard in the ‘70s and ‘80s – in my job as chairman of the county commission – to get “city water” throughout Cullman County. Cullman County was one of the first in the state to have near 100 percent of its population with “city water” – and it was a game changer for the county.

That experience helped me in Montgomery to understand and explain the need for broadband expansion.

Thank y’all for letting me represent you in Montgomery.