Vouchers for free internet service expected to hit student mailboxes next week
Montgomery, Ala. – Vouchers for the $100 million Alabama Broadband Connectivity initiative will begin arriving in mailboxes next week. The program, funded by the federal CARES Act, provides free internet access through the end of the year to students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Families with children already enrolled in the national lunch program will automatically receive a prepaid voucher by mail. A typical family of four whose annual household income is less than $48,470 and has children enrolled in school would qualify for the program.
The voucher allows families to receive internet service and necessary equipment at no cost through December 30. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is administering the program. ADECA is mandating participating service providers to deliver at least a 25 mbps download speed, which would allow for two virtual classroom sessions, such as Zoom or Google Classroom, to run simultaneously. Families that have recently moved, or are not yet registered in the free or reduced lunch program should contact their local school district to update their address.
Additional information about the program is available at www.abcstudents.org.
The $100 million comes from the nearly $2 billion allocated to the State from the federal CARES Act passed earlier this year. The Alabama Legislature in May passed a bill allocating the CARES Act money into buckets, including broadband, hospitals, and small business protection related to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. ADECA estimates over 250,000 or more eligible households will participate in the program, which amounts to approximately one-third of Alabama's K-12 student population.
Broadband connectivity continues to be a barrier in Alabama and across the country. Earlier this year, U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt sent a bipartisan letter urging Congress to allow the CARES Act money to be used to permanently fund broadband expansion. “We all know that rural Alabama deserves solid broadband, and I will continue to fight for this issue until it is done,” he said.
Governor Kay Ivey and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh echoed Aderholt’s comments, and Senate Minority leader Bobby Singleton has also been a fierce advocate for the necessity of a statewide broadband expansion effort.