Rural internet service may still be years away
Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023
By Haley Mitchell Godwin
Although high-quality internet is available to most Crenshaw County residents living within city limits, experts agree that reliable internet for rural areas may take another two or three years to reach fruition.
Governor Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act in 2018, creating appropriated funds to help provide high-speed broadband services in rural, underserved areas. Ivey recently announced progress of the initiative.
Approximately $63.9 million has been invested thus far, bringing high-speed access to 22,433 homes in Alabama with 39,196 more homes expected to receive access within the next two years.
Ivey gave remarks about the latest round of Broadband Accessibility Act during a Broadband Expansion Press Conference at Farmers Telecommunications Headquarters Wednesday January 11, 2023 in Rainsville.
“To thrive in a 21st-century world and a 21st-century economy, broadband must be made readily available so additional job opportunities can be created, education can be expanded past the walls of our classrooms and health care services can be improved,” Ivey said.
Mark and Robin Gallop, a retired couple from Auburn, Washington, recently moved to Crenshaw County after purchasing 10 acres just outside the Luverne city limits. The couple wanted to make their home in a rural area where emergency health services were near while still enjoying modern amenities.
Several days into the build of their new home, Mark Gallop called CenturyTel (now Brightspeed) to inquire about purchasing internet services and was told his address was not eligible for service.
The Gallops live one mile from where the Brightspeed service line ends.
Mark wrote a letter to Ivey after learning that broadband internet was not available at his home through any provider. Ivey informed him that she had forwarded his correspondence to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) for further review.
Kenneth W. Boswell, ADECA director, responded to Mark’s concern with a letter outlining steps Gallops could take toward broadband solutions.
“Unfortunately, your neighborhood is not presently included in any federally or state-funded project areas and we currently do not have any information about any privately funded planned expansions,” Boswell wrote. “However, that could change quickly as more funding becomes available. To help us bring attention to your location, please visit https://broadband.alabama.gov/speed-test/ to complete our speed test. If you cannot access the speed test, please call Chris Murphy at (334) 353-4589.”
In the letter, Boswell encouraged Mark to ask his neighbors to visit the website and complete the speed test. The website enables other uses, beyond guiding ADECA’s broadband investment by providing a tool for the public to research broadband availability and speeds across the state. Users can run a speed test and provide information about their current connectivity.
Gallop’s wife Robin said they feel blessed that high-speed internet is not a necessity for them.
“Thankfully we can get by without it, but from what I understand most all assignments for high schoolers have to be submitted or done online,” Robin said. “I worry about how the lack of reliable internet in the area affects education. I feel like if all residents in the county had access to internet at home it would be a catalyst for lots of wide-reaching positivity.”
The Association of County Commissions of Alabama voted to make broadband a No.1 priority in 2023. Crenshaw County Commissioners signed a resolution in 2022 endorsing Amendments 2 and 7 that pertained to the expansion of broadband services in Alabama.
David Smyth, Crenshaw County Commission administrator, said the necessity for expansion is at an all-time high.
“When our students had to attend school virtually, many did not have adequate internet access l,” Smyth said. Some had no access at all. “Some companies were allowing their employees to work from home, but for many in Crenshaw County that was not an option. COVID-19 made it evident that Alabama and Crenshaw County have a lot of ground to cover regarding the expansion of high-quality internet services.”
Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs has supported broadband service expansion through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund grants. These grants are applied for by internet service providers to help expand accessibility in underserved areas of the state.
Three projects were awarded to Crenshaw County so far through the Broadband Accessibility Act:
Troy Cablevision, Inc. – Southeast Alabama Broadband Accessibility Project #2 – $348,885 grant awarded in 2018;
Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative, Inc. – Clearview Project – $529,706 grant awarded in 2020; and
Troy Cablevision, Inc. – Southeast Alabama Broadband Accessibility Project #5 – $750,625 grant awarded in 2020
Alabama State Representative Chris Sells said internet issues many Crenshaw area residents Countians experience are a problem people all over the country are facing.
“This is not a small problem,” Sells said. “This is not just an Alabama problem. It is a national problem that is going to take a little longer to fully address, but it is actively being addressed, finally. Help is certainly on the way, and I will continue to do all I can to ensure all Crenshaw Countians have access to quality broadband services.”