Utilities Partner to Bridge the Digital Divide

Chad A. PilcherDaniel James RuthJoseph LeavensJames A. Byram Jr. and more

Expanding Broadband Access Across Alabama

In an increasingly information-dependent and global economy, the need for high-speed, high quality broadband access is more important than ever. Broadband access is a leading indicator for economic development throughout the country, and has become essential in multiple areas of work and life, including industrial manufacturing and global supply chains, to research and development, to telehealth and telemedicine to education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as adults worked from home and their children attended school and completed assignments online, the need for broadband access – and the disparities in digital equity – attracted national attention.

In recent years, Alabama Power has begun making significant investments in its fiber infrastructure for the primary purpose of strengthening grid communication and resilience.  It soon realized the added benefit of partnering with broadband service providers and electric cooperatives across Alabama to further the benefits of these investments in ways that could both strengthen its electric grid and facilitate the expansion of high-speed broadband internet access to rural and other underserved areas, they turned to Balch & Bingham for help navigating the regulatory, legislative, contractual and operational challenges involved in the project. 

Balch assembled a team to identify regulatory and jurisdictional issues, developed strategies to troubleshoot and applied creative approaches to grant-funding and negotiated partnerships with providers that helped Alabama Power move the project forward. 

So far, the outcome has been nothing short of successful for all parties involved, especially the people of Alabama. APC has since partnered with several different entities, thus improving the business case for broadband service providers who might not otherwise have been able to justify providing affordable service in certain rural areas because of fixed costs and low population density. Alabama’s citizens and businesses receive access to high speed, fiber-based broadband that would not have otherwise been available to them. In addition, the economic development benefits to the State of Alabama are monumental – including access to telemedicine, research, education, industrial applications, remote work, and more.  

Balch is proud to support Alabama Power as its leads the industry in using its fiber infrastructure to make a difference in the lives of Alabama’s citizens and communities.