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Local electric company expanding internet access to rural communities

Joe Wheeler EMC installing broadband internet access in Morgan and Lawrence County
Updated: Dec. 18, 2020 at 5:48 PM CST
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NORTH ALABAMA, Ala. (WAFF) - Over the next five years, nearly every person in Lawrence and Morgan County will have access to in-home Wi-Fi.

Not only will this help at home, it’ll also help with local businesses and other aspects of these communities.

”Joe Wheeler EMC is building a world class broadband network that will bring life changing opportunities to the residents and businesses here in Lawrence and Morgan Counties,” Joe Wheeler EMC Chief Executive Officer George Kitchens explained.

Kitchens says it one of the first local electric companies to be able to branch off and provide broadband internet to its customers.

”I don’t know if everyone’s grasped yet how important this is to not only Morgan and Lawrence county, but the state of Alabama,” State Representative Proncey Robertson said.

Robertson, who’s district covers Morgan and Lawrence County, along with several other local lawmakers, worked for the last few years to make this possible.

Alabama’s legislature has been pooling local and state dollars for years to provide broadband internet, specifically to rural communities.

”To see a rural utility like Joe Wheeler to take advantage of that program, draw the dollars from Montgomery, along with others, and help north Alabama develop, makes it all worth while,” State Senator Arthur Orr said.

Senator Orr also played a crucial role to expand this service to Morgan and Lawrence County.

The impacts of this expansion of internet, is immediate.

”Being able to provide better virtual learning opportunities, with just the economic impact, we’re bringing businesses in. It’s an exciting time in Lawrence county,” Dr. Jon Brett Smith said.

Smith, Superintendent at Lawrence County Schools, says when COVID-19 first hit Alabama, school systems like Lawrence County struggled with virtual learning.

Now, things are changing.

”We parked buses across the county, extended Wi-Fi across schools, being able to have it in each and every house and having a good, affordable internet access it really is a game changer to our students and our staff members,” Smith explained.

Joe Wheelers CEO also tells WAFF 48 News that providing internet access to these communities will help increase economic development.

That means driving up property values and increasing the attractiveness to live in Morgan and Lawrence County.

The total cost of the project is upwards of $95 Million. They’re expecting the expansion to take about five years.

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