Alabama is ramping up efforts to connect its citizens.
In mid-July, Gov. Robert Bentley signed an executive order to form an Office of Broadband Development, which will oversee efforts to equip its rural citizens — many of whom have no capacity for high-speed Internet — with broadband resources. Speaking with StateScoop, the new office’s Executive Director Kathy Johnson said a lack of broadband access poses a major handicap to citizens in rural parts of the state, from students to farmers.
“People cannot adopt broadband that costs more than their house payment,” Johnson said. “Broadband used to be a luxury. It’s become such a critical component — children go home from school and they are required to do research and connect with their teachers on their Internet. Without broadband, children in rural Alabama will fall further behind their peers in Montgomery or Birmingham.”
Johnson’s strategy will focus on identifying gaps of service and collaborating with partners in private industry to facilitate access for those who find themselves out of the loop.
The difficulty arises when isolated citizens — such as farmers, who are often located on large swathes of land miles away from cities or towns — are in need of service but are unable to fund the laying of cable, which can cost providers $25,000 per mile. Such cases often lead to pressure on local governments to develop and subsidize their own broadband infrastructure, a venture that Johnson said is difficult to sustain.
“I encourage the development of public-private-partnerships — reaching out to providers nearby, beginning a dialogue, asking what we can do to make service easier. Governments directly competing with private industry — it’s very difficult,” she said.
By cultivating relationships with industry, Johnson hopes to ease the burden of service extension on both ends. Moving into an increasingly technological world, connectivity is only becoming more important, she argued.
“We are diligently working on planning and determining the best road,” she said. “There’s not an area that broadband doesn’t touch.”
In a release, the governor said the new office would allow Alabama to better meet the needs of businesses and citizens.
“Broadband development is critical in Alabama’s continued economic growth, and I am confident that this newly created office will help us in reaching statewide goals in the areas of public safety, health care, education, e-Government, agriculture, tourism, economic development and more,” Bentley said.