Committee OKs pact to expand Internet coverage

Published 2:16 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature’s Contract Review Committee approved a $1.7 million two-year contract Thursday to help spread high-speed Internet service across the state, particularly to rural areas.

The committee approved the contract with Costquest Associates of Cincinnati. The contract was awarded after a committee appointed by Gov. Bob Riley spent a year studying ways to improve broadband Internet coverage in the state.

One committee member, Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, questioned why the work was being done by a private company when the state’s public universities have a number of high tech experts who could have done the work.

“Couldn’t we have involved the great universities of this state?” Ross said. He pointed out that Auburn University has done a lot of work in the field.

The director of the governor’s Alabama Broadband Initiative, Kathy Johnson, told committee members the company would provide comprehensive mapping to determine where high-speed Internet coverage is not available. She said company officials would then work with Internet providers, like cable and telephone companies, to figure out how to make service available in those areas.

Johnson said the work needs to be done by a private company because Internet providers will be unwilling to release information about their service areas and customers to a state agency that would make it part of the public record.

The committee chairman, Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, said his rural district in the southwest Alabama counties of Choctaw, Clarke and Washington would benefit from high-speed service.

“There are certain areas in all three counties that don’t have Internet access at all, except for dial-up,” Keahey said.