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Digital Divide: Broadband Access in Alabama

Greg Privett reports on how and why people in Alabama are facing a bigger hurdle to accessing high-speed broadband than many others in the US.

Posted: Sep 9, 2019 6:50 PM
Updated: Sep 9, 2019 6:50 PM

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people in alabama face a bigger hurdle to accessing high-speed broadband internet than many others in the u-s. a new report from analytics provider n-d-p shows 31 percent of americans don't have access to broadband. alabama ranks toward the bottom, meaning folks here face a struggle to work, stream, even study. it's called the digital divide and alabama is on the wrong side of the dividing line. waay 31's greg privett explains the problem and what's happening to fix it. <nats > when melanie holiday opens the door to her classroom, <nats of teacher > she knows some of her students are shut out from high-tech learning tools. <melanie holiday 12-04-05 > "kids who live further out in the county don't have access to internet. and that makes it really difficult for them to get extra help." holiday teaches history at west morgan high. <melanie holiday 12-02-33 > "our students in morgan county have access to chromebooks." still, the learning tools can go untapped at home. <melanie holiday 12-02-48 > "a lot of teachers put all of their assignments online. and it's really difficult for the students to complete those assignments at home if they don't have internet." estimates put more than 800- hundred- thousand people in alabama withouth a fast, wired broadband connection. more than a quarter-million have no wired internet connection at all. <melanie holiday 12-05-17 > "absolutely. it happens quite often. you know, kids will come up to me and say, 'hey, i don't have access to the internet at home' which means they have to scramble and finish their lunch quickly so that maybe they can finish their assignment." across the county line. <larry smith 12-14-27 > "there are areas in lawrence county and in alabama where we have no broadband. <12-18-28 > "the problem is having a connection to the internet that has enough band width to be able to do what you need to do." larry smith is the technology coordinator for lawrence county schools. he makes it clear . internet is available on cell hot spots, relatively slow d-s-l and expensive sattelite hookups. but, smith says students need an affordable fast broadband connection at home to take advantage of online learning. < larry smith 12-15-15 > "for example, our teachers use google classroom. they give assignments and they have quizzes and they do other things online. and the students may not have an opportunity to see that and respond from home." <standup > "when it comes to broadband, alabama's rural areas are often underserved. here in lawrence county, for example, the population is fairly thin near bankhead forest. some people simply don't have access to broadband." <larry smith 12-16-15 > "we would like to see broadband be expanded into areas where we don't have that so we could serve our students better." here's what state leaders are doing to make that happen. in may, governor kay ivey signed legislative bills intended to boost broadband access. right now, the state is evaluating proposals from prospective consulting firms. expected to be chosen early november . that contractor will develop a strategic plan and map alabama's communities that need broadband. also . a new law allows electric utilities to use power line easements to provide broadband service. and . new legislation expands alabama's grant program to encourage providers to make broadband more available in rural areas. <nats > larry smith insists folks in alabama need broadband access. < larry smith 12-16-20 > "and we want to make it better and expand it in the future is our virtual school which is very dependent on the student being able to get online." <melanie holiday 12-04-16 > teacher "some kids don't have access to that and that's really heartbreaking for them." without broadband access at home . melanie holiday says some of her students face a set back. <melanie holiday 12-06-25 > "it certainly puts them at a disadvantage. they have to find other times at school that they can finish. so, it can be pretty stressful for those kids." greg privett, waay 31 news. one utility provider is already working to make broadband available to any customer who wants it. joe wheeler electric cooperative serves parts of morgan and lawrence counties. if co-op members vote in november to approve, joe wheeler has a 5-year-plan to install fiber optic cable and make broadband available throughout
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