Company breaks ground on high-speed, fiber optic service for Demopolis, 16 other Black Belt communities

Published 11:03 am Monday, March 11, 2024

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Demopolis and 16 other Alabama Black Belt communities will soon be able to connect to a new lightning-fast, fiber-optic network being rolled out by Meridiam, an infrastructure investment firm.

The major new investment to expand high-speed internet service across Alabama will give Demopolis an important tool to better compete for job-creating projects and fuel economic growth.

This month, Meridiam announced it will develop, build and manage the network that will eventually provide fiber broadband to 53,000 households and businesses across more than 300 miles in central Alabama. Private investment in the project will total $230 million.

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Selma is another Alabama community that will benefit from the recent announcement.

“High-speed reliable broadband is no longer nice to have,” Selma Mayor James Perkins said. “Today, it’s as important as gas, water and electricity. In our increasingly digital society, cities without access to fiber broadband risk falling behind.

“It’s critical that the city of Selma makes fiber broadband accessible citywide by building utility-like infrastructure that serves our residents’ needs today and for generations to come,” he said.

Meridiam said the broadband network, developed with affiliate Yellowhammer Networks, will extend beyond Dallas County to Greene, Hale, Marengo, Perry, Sumter and Wilcox counties in Alabama’s rural Black Belt.

The project follows a pair of announcements from Gov. Kay Ivey in February that grants totaling more than $336 million had been awarded to internet service providers to expand broadband availability to homes, businesses and public institutions in underserved areas of the state.

“Rural Alabama, like so many other places in the state, is in need of increased access to high-speed internet, and today we are taking a significant stride in our journey toward full broadband access,” Ivey said at a Feb. 5 announcement.

Rural Alabama counties benefiting from the grants include Washington, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe, Henry, Barbour, Geneva, Pickens, Lowndes and Dale.

“Our fiber-optic network will help bring those Alabama communities without reliable internet into a new era,” said Tom Stackhouse, chairman of the Alabama Fiber Network, a coalition of eight electric co-ops and key partners that received nearly $129 million in a February grant for projects, mostly in rural areas. Alabama Power is a partner in the Alabama Fiber Network.

The funding for these broadband grants was made available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as part of Ivey’s “Be Linked Alabama” initiative.

That’s on top of an additional $276 million in ARPA funding for broadband expansion announced in early 2021.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.