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Alabama high-speed internet expansion getting $188 million middle-mile boost

Alabama’s efforts to expand high-speed internet access into underserved areas of the state got a big boost Monday when Gov. Kay Ivey announced 12 projects that will receive more than $188 million for critical “middle-mile” infrastructure.

The grants to a dozen internet service providers will fund more than 4,000 miles of broadband installation projects throughout Alabama. They are called “middle-mile” because they provide the important linkage between the network core and local access. It is often the most expensive element of broadband expansion, and the grants are expected to help reduce costs for local providers and consumers, particularly those in rural areas farthest away from the core network.

“Rural Alabama, like so many other places in the state, is in need of increased access to high-speed internet, and today we are taking a significant stride in our journey toward full broadband access,” Ivey said, making the announcement in her hometown of Camden in Wilcox County, one of the areas to be served by the grants.

“These middle-mile projects will be extremely beneficial to our anchor institutions, and it puts us in a desirable situation where the last-mile projects that will supply broadband service to businesses and households are more economical and attainable,” Ivey said.

Anchor institutions include schools, hospitals and medical facilities, and government and public safety buildings. Many are located on or near the middle-mile routes and more than 790 will be served by the projects.

The grants are from the Alabama Anchor Institution/Middle Mile Grant Program, which was funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The Legislature dedicated the funds to broadband expansion, which is administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) through its Alabama Digital Expansion Division.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell helps announce a dozen projects receiving more than $188 million in funding to expand high-speed internet in Alabama. (Hal Yeager / Governor’s Office)

“In the 21st century, access to affordable, high-speed internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and one that many Alabamians have gone without for far too long,” said U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who joined the governor for the announcement.

Broadband expansion falls under the state’s Be Linked Alabama initiative. The $188 million is the latest bucket of dollars from federal, state and private resources being invested to expand high-speed internet in the state.

ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell spoke to the state’s economic developers last month at the Economic Development Association of Alabama 2024 Winter Conference where he stressed the significance of broadband expansion.

“The impact from my perspective is it creates parity throughout the state – from the rural areas, urban and metropolitan, it puts everybody on an even playing field,” he said. “But can you imagine what it’s going to do from the standpoint of health care, education, economic development? It’s going to be unbelievable at how transformative it will become over the years to come.”

Boswell said ADECA has worked with partners throughout the state to put together a plan complete with overlay maps to help position Alabama to receive and effectively spend dollars allocated for broadband expansion. Unlike other states that identified their broadband needs down to the census tract, Boswell said Alabama identified the need down to the address level, putting it ahead of the game.

As a result, Alabama is now spending $400 million in federal funds and an additional $1.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program.

“To say that we’ve come a long way in a short period of time, I would agree with 100%,” Boswell told Alabama News Center.

Alabama Power is among those working to expand broadband in the state, partnered with rural electric cooperatives. The partnership has focused on middle-mile projects to reach unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Boswell acknowledged Alabama Power, other utilities companies and internet service providers in helping expand broadband in the state.

“It’s all of us working together to get the job done,” he said. “Just one of us can’t do it. To see that team at work and pulling in the same direction is pretty phenomenal.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announces a dozen projects will receive funding for broadband expansion in the state. (Hal Yeager / Governor’s Office)

The projects in this round of grants will go to:

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $2.69 million to provide middle-mile infrastructure along 38 miles in Autauga and Elmore counties to include 33 anchor institutions.

Coosa Valley Technologies Inc. – $7 million to provide 110 miles of middle-mile connections in Calhoun, St. Clair and Talladega counties affecting 17 anchor institutions.

Cullman Electric Cooperative – $1.46 million to install middle-mile connections in areas of Cullman County to include 15 anchor institutions and cover 106 miles.

Farmers Telecommunications Corp. – $21.6 million to provide two middle-mile fiber routes in Blount, Etowah, Jefferson and Marshall counties totaling 155 miles and connecting 189 anchor institutions.

Alabama Fiber Network – $128.8 million to install five middle-mile projects totaling 1,776 miles and connecting 438 anchor institutions in Bibb, Butler, Chilton, Choctaw, Conecuh, Dale, Dallas, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jefferson, Lowndes, Marengo, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox counties. The Alabama Fiber Network is comprised of eight rural electric cooperatives.

JMF Solutions – $6.3 million for four projects to provide middle-mile connections over a 1,169-mile route in Bibb, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Greene, Lowndes, Macon, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties. The projects will affect 24 anchor institutions.

Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. – $5.25 million to provide more than 20 miles of middle-mile infrastructure in the Courtland area in Lawrence County and affecting 16 anchor institutions.

Point Broadband – $411,341 to provide a middle-mile project in Blount County totaling 12.4 miles and impacting 21 anchor institutions.

Spectrum Southeast – $7.3 million for a middle-mile project in rural southeastern Houston County involving 167 miles and connecting eight anchor institutions.

Tombigbee Electric Cooperative – $757,479 to provide a middle-mile project of nearly 50 miles in Winston County and affecting 22 anchor institutions.

Uniti Fiber – $4.2 million to provide about 64 miles of middle-mile project in Butler, Lowndes and Montgomery counties, including four anchor institutions.

Yellowhammer Networks – $2.52 million for a middle-mile project in Bibb, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Perry, Sumter and Wilcox counties to include the cities of Selma, Demopolis and Eutaw and spanning 620 miles. The project will include six anchor institutions.

To learn more about Alabama’s broadband expansion efforts, visit