Broadband access next great infrastructure effort

Infrastructure is a key word for any developer, entrepreneur, industrial recruiter, or public official looking for opportunities in economic development.

There must be the roads and bridges, electrical grid and natural gas lines, to support all types of business.

Now add one more infrastructure need for future development: broadband access.

The state has been aggressive in planning for broadband expansion.

Last year, ConnectingALABAMA was created to help move the state’s technology infrastructure forward. Over the past year the program has been mapping broadband availability, and creating a plan to extend high-speed data access throughout the state.

In our state history, we are no strangers to being aggressive when building infrastructure for economic development in Alabama.

At the beginning of the 1930s, most of Alabama did not have electricity, and less than one in ten rural households. Electric companies felt it was either too expensive or unprofitable to extend electricity to most Alabama homes, especially in the country.

A New Deal agency created under Roosevelt, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), helped start cooperatives and other incentives to extend power to all areas of the state.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Gov. Jim Folsom created the Farm to Market Road Program, creating the largest expansion of highways into rural communities ever seen before.

The idea was that better roads would help farmers get their products to market and to stimulate the economy.

Now we take for granted the highways that were built during that time. Yet before those highways were built, many Alabama counties had few roads that could move trucks in and out. The highways we have today are the basis of the state’s economy.

It is clear that government can have a positive and effective role in expanding infrastructure. Now it is time for the state to assist with broadband.

We have already been expanding broadband through our public school technology effort ACCESS. We have been working hard to bring state-of-the-art distance learning technology to all Alabama schools.

All high school students can now take online classes, and we have the largest increase in the nation on the number of students taking Advanced Placement Courses, and a huge expansion of students using distance learning.

Importantly, the students taking online courses are also learning to rely on broadband access.

With that knowledge comes demand, and consumer demand is the basis of any sustained development.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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