Rep. Randall Shedd

Rep. Randall Shedd at an event at Wallace State Community College in Nov. 2018.

Rural connectivity could improve in Alabama with bills circulating the state House and Senate.

Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview, successfully pushed through the House, with a 92-2 approval, a bill that would essentially allow fiber optic lines to follow existing power lines.

“We were able to get it out of the House with a strong vote,” Shedd said of his bill. “It’s moved to the Senate, so we’re hoping to see it come up there next week with positive results. It’s a tremendous opportunity and doesn’t cost the state any money.”

Providers of internet service could follow the power lines either underground or along the utilities to reach the more rural areas of Alabama.

Shedd, who heads the House Rural Development Committee, has long pushed to bring more technology to rural areas for education and economic development.

“This bill takes nothing away from the areas of our state that are bringing jobs and growth, but it opens the door for more educational and economic opportunities to areas that have been passed by,” Shedd said. “We have some tremendous growth with jobs and the economy, but the hope is to extend these opportunities into areas that need a boost.”

Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Marshall County, is also pushing a bill that would provide grant money for broadband expansion.

Shedd said his bill and Scofield’s would provide plenty of incentives for providers to extend internet services deeper through the state.

“The infrastructure is there,” Shedd said. “I’m very hopeful we can followup on some the success from last year’s session. You can’t compete or sustain without the technology that is so vital in both education and the workplace.The timing is good to open up the opportunities for a greater part of the state’s residents.”

Alabama has enjoyed record economic growth and employment in the last two years, but some of the state’s more rural areas have suffered from the lack of technology available to their communities.

The local legislative delegation has been supportive of expanding broadband into rural areas, and the issue is gaining more support across the state and at the federal government level.

David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, ext. 116.

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David Palmer has decades of experience in the newspaper industry. He currently serves as editor of The Cullman Times.