1 month ago

$37M in rural broadband funding coming to Alabama — ‘When rural America thrives, all of America thrives’

PRATTVILLE — Two Trump administration officials and U.S. Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) gathered on Friday to announce a $37 million investment by the federal government in rural Alabama’s internet access.

The investment comes in the form of grants and loans to internet providers that make expanding high-speed service to more rural customers economically feasible.

According to the USDA, the investment announced Friday will provide high-speed internet to more than 28,000 people across over 11,100 households, including 432 farms.

The two Trump administration officials present for the announcement on Friday were United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development Bette Brand and USDA Rural Development State Director Chris Beeker.

“When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” said Brand at the announcement, which was hosted by Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and emceed with efficiency by Beeker.

Six companies will split the $37 million, which will be distributed via both grants and loans. The customers receiving the upgraded internet service are in a 14-county stretch of central Alabama to the north and west of Montgomery.

The funding comes from the second round of the federal government’s ReConnect program, which was recently infused with an extra $100 billion under the CARES Act.

ReConnect is run by the USDA and is tasked with evaluating and selecting applications by rural broadband providers that want public funds to help allay the cost of providing high-speed service to more people.

Alabama received the fourth-most funding of any state in round one of the program, a big portion of which was announced in Hamilton in late 2019.

The USDA detailed each new investment it is making as follows:

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative will use a $8.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 13,853 people, 149 farms, 77 businesses and one fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Bibb, Chilton, Perry, Autauga, Talladega, Elmore and Coosa counties in Alabama.
  • Millry Telephone Company Inc. will use a $8.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,444 people, 84 farms, 46 businesses, four fire stations and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Choctaw and Washington counties in Alabama.
  • Pine Belt Telephone Company Inc. will use a $6.5 million ReConnect grant and a $6.5 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 5,799 people, 143 farms, 83 businesses, five fire stations, five educational facilities and four post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Perry, Hale and Marengo counties in Alabama.
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative Inc. will use a $5.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,546 people, 36 farms, 19 businesses and three fire stations to high-speed broadband internet in Crenshaw, Lowndes and Montgomery counties in Alabama.
  • Hayneville Telephone Company Inc. will use a $1.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,481 people, 19 farms, nine businesses, and four educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • Moundville Telephone Co. Inc. will use a $166,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 111 people and a farm to high-speed broadband internet in Hale County, Alabama.

Palmer, who has constituents that will be provided better internet because of the announced grants, spoke at the event on Friday.

“Having grown up in rural Alabama, I know how important this is,” he remarked.

Palmer was raised in Hackleburg, current population of 1,466, a small town in Marion County.

“We have a chance to revitalize rural economies, especially around small towns,” he added about the impact of investing in rural broadband.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate echoed that sentiment after the event, telling reporters that quality internet gives communities such as his home of Lowndes County a shot at cutting down on the population loss that affects so many rural areas.

“Connectivity is critically important for families, businesses, farms, and public safety and community services – particularly during a time when remote access is paramount,” said U.S. Senator Shelby (R-AL) in a statement on Friday.

He added, “These USDA grants will help provide high-speed internet access to thousands of Alabamians in rural areas. I am proud that the Administration has awarded this $37 million investment to our state and look forward to the benefits it will bring to 14 counties in central Alabama.”

Beeker, in his remarks, praised the “great partnerships and incredible teamwork” that was necessary to pull off such a large project.

“A lot of work has gone into all of this; these are good programs. What Bette says, it really means a lot when you stop and think about it. When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Beeker concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Ivey lights official state Christmas tree – ‘Merry Christmas to each of you’

MONTGOMERY – Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Friday took part in the traditional annual lighting of the official State of Alabama Christmas Tree located on the steps of the capitol.

“Let this be a year you do a little bit more, and give a little bit more,” said Governor Ivey to those assembled.

“Merry Christmas to each of you and to all families across Alabama,” she added.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed introduced Ivey at the ceremony and praised her “steady leadership” during a tumultuous year. Ivey later thanked him for his “dedicated leadership” of Alabama’s capital city.

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Around 200 citizens braved temperatures in the mid-40s to take in the lighting ceremony. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, masks were required for attendance at the ceremony.

“I’m incredibly grateful we’re able to safely keep this Christmas tradition alive,” Ivey said of the circumstances.

Alabama’s 2020 tree was donated by Robbins Taylor, Sr. of Lowndes County. The Eastern Red Cedar is 35 feet tall and required a crew from the Alabama Department of Transportation for its installation.

Major General David J. Francis, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, reminded the crowd in attendance that the Christmas standard “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was written from the perspective of a soldier forced to be away from home during World War II.

“This is a great reminder to remember all our service members, including the members of the greatest generation, the deployed members who will not be with their loved ones this holiday season, and the many who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” Francis added.

“Christmas is a direct reminder of the hope we find in Jesus Christ,” mentioned the governor, who makes her Christian faith a mainstay of her public persona.

“Through the birth of a baby boy over two thousand years ago, we can find salvation, peace, and purpose in our lives,” Ivey continued.

“For many of us, including myself, that hope and faith has been what has guided us through these difficult challenges of 2020,” she told the public.

“May God continue to bless our state,” the governor concluded.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

7 hours ago

Palmer: Pelosi, Democrats prioritize pot legalization over COVID-19 relief

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) raised eyebrows this week by calling the House of Representatives into session and pushing through votes on legislation that would legalize marijuana and ban private ownership of exotic animals — known as the “Tiger King” bill.

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) released a scathing statement on Friday decrying Pelosi’s prioritization of these bills over much-needed COVID-19 relief for the American people.

“Speaker Pelosi and her clueless Democrat colleagues have proven over and over again that their top priorities do not include the hardworking Americans who need help to get through this pandemic,” Palmer said.

“This week, their prioritization of pot legalization while people are struggling is a stunning display of partisan politics and shows just how out of touch Democrats are with the American people,” he continued. “The timing of this bill not only reflects a disregard for the businesses that need further relief funding, but also for the rampant mental health and drug overdose issues exacerbated by the pandemic.”

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Entitled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), the marijuana legalization passed the House on Friday by a vote of 228-164. The only Alabama representative to support the measure was Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07), a Democrat.

“Federal surveys show that since the coronavirus arrived in the U.S., depression and anxiety have been on the rise, with a concerning 75% of young adults now struggling with at least one mental health or drug problem,” Palmer explained. “The Center for Disease Control has also predicted that the U.S. could see 75,500 drug overdose deaths in 2020 if recent trends hold. Pelosi’s pot bill is even more unconscionable with these concerning facts in mind, especially as it ignores common sense safety measures around marijuana use, and also funnels taxpayer dollars to the marijuana industry and convicted drug dealers. In short, the bill would grant easier access to a gateway drug for already vulnerable and struggling people.”

The Central Alabama congressman concluded, “Furthermore, at a time when we should be helping people with employment opportunities, this bill would move us in the wrong direction. Companies with drug-free work environments, many of them also hazardous work environments, should not and will not employ people who might come to work drug-impaired, endangering themselves and others. I hope we don’t waste more opportunities next week for needed relief.”

Palmer, as the chair of the Republican Policy Committee, is the fifth-highest ranking member of the House GOP.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

WWII vet finishes fight with COVID-19, turns 104 the next day

A World War II veteran in Alabama was released from the hospital this week after a battle with the coronavirus. He turned 104 years old on his first day back home.

Major Wooten, the veteran in question, has become something of a minor celebrity in recent years for his joyful approach to life at his advanced age.

Wooten turned heads in recent years during his trip to Normandy to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Similar lines cheered his return to the airport and his exit from the hospital earlier this week.

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An ardent Alabama fan, Wooten again made headlines earlier this year when Nick Saban gave him a call after a health scare in the spring.

RELATED: Nick Saban surprises 103-year-old WWII veteran with Facetime call

Wooten is from Cullman and was cared for at Madison Hospital during his fight with COVID-19.

His exit from the hospital has garnered attention across the nation, with the Associated Press publishing a widely circulated story and ABC’s World News Tonight featuring Wooten in a segment.

Watch employees of Madison Hospital sing Happy Birthday to Major Wooten:

 

Major Wooten turns 104!

Mr. Major Lee Wooten won his battle with COVID-19 in time to be home to celebrate his 104th birthday. Mr. Wooten, who is a veteran and warmly known as “Pop Pop,” is described by his granddaughter as “their family’s treasure.” Please join us in wishing Mr. Wooten a very, happy birthday!

Posted by Madison Hospital on Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

8 hours ago

Alabama receives over $50M from Dept. of Interior for energy produced in state

The State of Alabama is receiving $50.29 million from the federal government as a disbursement for energy that was produced in a federally owned area of the state.

Alabama’s funds come as part of a $1.81 billion payout to 34 states announced by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt on Friday.

The revenue sent to states Friday “was collected from oil, gas and mineral production on federal lands within the states’ borders and from offshore oil and gas tracts in federal waters adjacent to their shores,” according to a release from the department.

Virtually all of Alabama’s portion of the money was generated by offshore drilling, per the data available on an Interior Department web portal.

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Alabama’s payment was ninth highest in the nation. New Mexico took the top spot with $706.96 million followed by Wyoming, Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah and Mississippi.

American Indian Tribes received $1 billion as part of the process; 100% of the revenue from the energy generated on their lands.

“[T]hese disbursements also go right back to the states and Tribes where the energy was produced, providing critical funding for schools, public services, conservation improvements and infrastructure projects that create good-paying American jobs,” said Bernhardt on Friday.

The over $50 million announced as on its way to Alabama on Friday is the state’s total for fiscal year 2020 that ended September 30. It is the largest amount the state has received under the disbursement policy in the last decade.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

10 hours ago

Aderholt tests positive for COVID-19, is asymptomatic

Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) on Friday announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19 but is displaying no symptoms.

Aderholt originally went into quarantine on November 15 after learning he had been in close contact with someone who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. Right after completing his 10-day quarantine period, Aderholt’s wife, Caroline, tested positive and he once again went into quarantine.

Under new CDC guidelines that allow for a seven-day quarantine if followed by a negative test result, Aderholt on Thursday received a COVID-19 test to ascertain if he could exit quarantine and resume voting on the House floor.

“I fully expected to receive a negative test, because I have felt, and continue to feel fine, and have no symptoms. Unfortunately, I received word Friday morning that my test came back positive. After speaking with the Attending Physician for Congress, I will continue to isolate,” he advised in a statement.

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Aderholt also said that his wife has recovered from the virus after experiencing mild symptoms.

During his original quarantine, Aderholt had isolated himself away from his wife and the rest of his family.

The dean of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation, Aderholt is a senior member of the Committee on Appropriations, including serving as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science and as a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Subcommittee and the Defense Subcommittee.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn