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CAEC receives grants to expand high speed internet

By JOYANNA LOVE/Senior Staff Writer

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative has received eight grants from the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund to continue its efforts to provide broadband internet access to rural areas.

The grants are awarded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

CAEC received $4.1 million, which is expected to lead to providing internet to “4,545 households and 261 business and community organizations in central Alabama,” according to a CAEC press release.

Additional portions of Chilton County will be included in this expansion. (Some portions of the county were included in the inaugural CAEC project last year.”

According to a press release from Governor Kay Ivey’s office, among the many locations scheduled to receive service will be more than 1,000 households and more than 100 businesses in northwest (near Thorsby), south, southeast and south-central Chilton County as well as “south of the city of Clanton and north of the town of Billingsley.”

Construction of the fiber internet system for these areas is expected to begin in November.

“CAEC applied for eight grants in late 2019 to help ease the cost of bringing lightning-fast internet to those areas that need it. Receiving the news during a time when it’s so apparent this service is essential is a ray of hope for those who have been left in the digital dark,” said CAEC President and CEO Tom Stackhouse in a press release. “While it won’t happen overnight, these funds will allow us to keep focused on our number one goal of providing broadband service to those in areas where access to high-speed internet is lacking.”

The internet portion of CAEC is Central Access, a wholly-owned subsidiary which was launched in 2019. Initially, the company focused on connecting each of the CAEC offices with 400 miles of fiber optic cable. This project began in August 2019 and is expected to be completed later this year. This project paved the way to including internet customers along the route.

New funding from the grants will expand the reach of the service through construction projects stringing more fiber optic cable.

“Although building an entire network of this quality takes time, we’re certain these grant areas will have fiber capability within the two-year timeframe. We’re grateful to Governor Kay Ivey and ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell for their support of our broadband project, and we recognize the Alabama Legislators who provided the funding,” Stackhouse said. “We look forward to the opportunity to partner with Senators Clyde Chambliss, Cam Ward and Malika Sanders-Fortier and with Representatives Van Smith, April Weaver, Mike Holmes, Ed Oliver, Kelvin Lawrence and Prince Chestnut as we work to overcome the digital void in our service area.”

More information about internet from Central Access is available at caec.coop/broadband-project.

Broadband grants awarded by ADECA this year totaled $9.5 million.

“As our day-to-day way of living has been impacted over the past few weeks, it has underscored the value and necessity of high-speed broadband services. That is something that Governor Ivey, the Legislature and ADECA have been working to address through the Broadband Accessibility Fund,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said in a press release.  “ADECA takes its role in administering this program seriously and is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility.”

The Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund was established in 2018 “to provide high-speed internet to rural and underserved areas of the state,” according to the governor’s office press release.