Alabama voters back local broadband spending amendment

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Voters in Alabama on Tuesday approved a new state constitution as well as 10 amendments, one of which frees up the state and local governments to use stimulus funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to attract internet service providers in hopes of expanding broadband service.

Amendment Two passed alongside several other amendments concerning election laws, criminal justice and taxation. The measures were all attached to a new state constitution replacing a document written in 1901. That constitution, in addition to having grown over the last 120 years to nearly 400,000 words and 900 amendments — making it the world’s longest governing document — was riddled with racist language and laws, including interracial marriage bans, poll taxes for Black voters and segregated schools.

“The new constitution eliminates the ignorant negro vote, and places the control of our government where God Almighty intended it should be — with the Anglo-Saxon race,” John Knox, the president of the 1901 constitutional convention, said at the time of its ratification.

The broadband amendment passed with nearly 80% support. Under it, the state government and Alabama’s localities will be authorized to “grant federal award funds or any other source of funding designated for broadband infrastructure by state law to any public or private entity for the purpose of providing or expanding broadband infrastructure.”

The amendment had already been approved unanimously by the Alabama Legislature and had the backing of Gov. Kay Ivey. The Association of County Commissions of Alabama, a group representing municipal leaders around the state, said in March that the amendment was necessary because the 1901 constitution barred government agencies from using public funds to provide a “thing of value” to private companies — in this instance, the ISPs and broadband developers that officials hope will build out more network capacity across the state, which ranks 38th for high-speed internet access.

Ivey announced in March that Alabama would seek to use $276 million in Rescue Plan funds for broadband development. In September, the state’s Digital Expansion Authority Board announced plans to use $82 million to connect nearly 3,000 miles of existing and new fiber.

The new Alabama constitution, stripped of its antiquated and racist passages, is still the country’s longest state constitution, three times longer than second-place Texas’.

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Alabama, American Rescue Plan, Broadband
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