ABC for Students program will help students connect to the internet for home-based learning

Courtesy of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative

Gov. Kay Ivey has announced a plan to help students afford internet access, and Alabama’s broadband providers are ready to support these efforts.

The Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students program, or ABC for Students, set aside $100 million in federal CARES Act money to cover the cost of internet service for eligible students.

“We’re proud to work alongside the governor to connect more of our unserved families,” said Fred Johnson, CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Rainsville, Alabama. “This is an effective use of the CARES Act monies to have an immediate impact on Alabama families.”

The funds will be distributed as vouchers to Alabama households with students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

“Independent and cooperatively owned broadband companies connect many of Alabama’s hometowns and rural communities, and we, unfortunately, see many homes that struggle to afford service,” said Evelyn Causey, CEO of Hayneville Telephone Company in Hayneville, Alabama. “The ABC for Students program gets help to those families when it’s most needed.”

The pandemic that abruptly ended the 2019-2020 school year has continued to destabilize communities and families. School districts across Alabama are struggling with a mix of in-person and at-home learning, creating challenges for students and teachers alike.

“This is why we built a fiber network,” said Daniel Martin, CEO of NHTC in New Hope, Alabama. “Alabama’s broadband providers have long understood the growing importance of connectivity, and the pandemic has magnified the need for broadband in every home.”

Households with a student enrolled in the National School Lunch Program will receive the internet vouchers in the mail from the state of Alabama in the coming days. With these vouchers will come a list of broadband providers in their area who have agreed to participate in the program.

“From there, it’s easy,” said Teresa Rich, CEO of Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative, in Ramer, Alabama. “Simply reach out to one of us on the list. If we have service available to your home, we will accept your voucher and get you connected to our reliable broadband network.”

The independent and cooperatively owned broadband providers participating in the program include:

• Ardmore Telephone Company

• Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative

• Hayneville Telephone Company

• Millry Telephone Company

• Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative

• New Hope Telephone Cooperative

• Pine Belt Telephone Company

• TEC Cherokee

• TEC Roanoke

• Windstream Communications

“Despite the upheavals in our lives during the past few months and at least into the near future, children must be able to continue their classroom instruction,” Ivey said. “This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools that provide those options and will also ensure their safety during the pandemic. While I respect those districts that have elected to use remote learning, I fear that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home. These funds will bridge the gap until all students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”

Participating independent and cooperatively owned broadband providers are members of the Telecommunications Association of the Southeast.