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7 months ago

Alabama rural broadband bill now offers grants rather than incentives

A bill that would help the expansion of rural broadband in Alabama passed a House committee Wednesday, but a big change in the legislation could affect the pocketbooks of state taxpayers.

The Alabama Rural Broadband Act, sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), passed by unanimous voice vote in the House Education Committee after breezing through the Senate.

Scofield had initially hoped to offer tax incentives to private providers to expand into rural areas. His original legislation would have exempted broadband telecommunications network facilities from taxation for 10 years, exempted equipment and materials used by those facilities from the state’s sales and use tax, and would have offered an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of the investment in those facilities. Total tax credits would have been capped at $20 million per company.

But the House wanted to switch that to a grant program to possibly tap into President Trump’s infrastructure plan. The White House released a few details about the proposal last month. It would dedicate $50 billion to rural America, and governors of each state – as determined by an as-of-yet unspecified formula – would get 80 percent of the money to spend as they wish under the proposal. The other 20 percent of the funds would be provided to “selected states” that apply for Rural Performance Grants. Trump has said he’d like states to buy-in by chipping into the potential grant program.

Trump’s plan doesn’t dedicate infrastructure funds to broadband, but deems it a high priority.

“It’s not the delivery method we devised,” Scofield told Yellowhammer News of his bill. “The credits were not going to pass the House. That was clear.”

The substituted bill approved by the House Education Committee now offers grants at two tiers to pay for up to 20 percent of a broadband project’s total cost – a cap of $1.4 million per project that offers speeds of 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits per second up, and a cap of $750,000 per project for 10/1 speeds.

The program would be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Companies would apply for grants, providing detailed information about what areas and residents would be served. Cooperatives would be eligible for the grants, but government entities could not receive the money, preventing the spread of municipal broadband projects through this program.

Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva), the bill’s champion in the House, said at a Business Council of Alabama briefing earlier this week that compromise was needed to ensure the legislation moves forward in 2018.

“If we are going to be forward looking in technology, we can’t wait,” he said.

Scofield said some lawmakers wanted to provide the cash up front, but the money will still be given on the back end if the bill passes.

“They asked, ‘If you’re OK with the State of Alabama writing a check and say go build,’…unh-uh. It’s still not a giveaway program with cash.”

The total money that will be appropriated to the bill is still up in the air, but Scofield said he’s been told he could expect $10 million annually.

Although he had to compromise on the funding method for rural broadband expansion, the legislation still contains language that restricts overbuilding and establishes a legislative oversight committee that would monitor the grants to ensure effectiveness.

“It’s a good start to begin getting broadband out to our unserved and underserved areas of the state,” Scofield said.

The bill will be considered by the entire House next week – Scofield said he hopes to place it first on the agenda for Tuesday – and, if passed, would go to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk. Ivey, in her State of the State speech in January, expressed a strong desire for programs to expand rural broadband.

49 mins ago

Another $95,000 funneled into Alabama PAC from out-of-state Planned Parenthood group

According to a mandatory financial disclosure filed at approximately noon on Thursday, Planned Parenthood on Tuesday pumped an additional $95,000 into its efforts to influence Alabama’s November 6 general election.

Planned Parenthood, through Planned Parenthood Southeast’s “Alabama for Healthy Families” PAC, is opposing a pro-life constitutional amendment and attempting to drive up Democratic turnout on Election Day. Along with Planned Parenthood, Democratic gubernatorial nominee and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, the ACLU, the Feminist Majority Foundation and URGE are opposing the amendment – Amendment Two.

The $95,000 contribution to the Alabama PAC was made from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, located in Vermont. The PAC now reports having $915,000 cash on hand to spend in under three weeks leading up to the election. Previous contributions have come in from multiple entities each in California and New York City.

Combined with a $200,000 cash infusion directly from George Soros, Alabama Democrats will be hoping that more than $1 million in last minute, out-of-state spending will buoy their candidates, especially in down ballot races that could take advantage of Democrats voting the straight ticket option while the average Alabamian checks off individual candidates he or she knows while ignoring the lesser known races.

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You can expect more out-of-state money to continue pouring in, whether it is contributions from the likes of Soros himself or dark money from groups like Planned Parenthood.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

TVA begins Browns Ferry outage for Unit 1 modifications

Tennessee Valley Authority has begun a scheduled outage at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 1 in Alabama to prepare it to generate additional electricity.

The utility said in a news release it will install 332 new nuclear fuel assemblies and perform a final round of modifications.

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Unit 1 will be the second of three Browns Ferry units to generate an additional 155 megawatts of electricity.

Unit 3 began operating at its new power rating in July. Final modifications will be installed on Unit 2 next spring.

The utility said the additional 465 megawatts of electricity is enough to power an additional 280,000 homes.

The release said TVA plans to invest $475 million on the project.

TVA powers 9 million customers in parts of seven Southern states.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

Roby Dem opponent Tabitha Isner tells NY Times Russian hacking claim was used as a ploy for campaign publicity

Back during the summer, Democratic congressional hopeful Tabitha Isner attracted national headlines when she claimed Russians had attempted to hack her campaign’s website.

“I was pretty surprised by that because I had bought enough bandwidth, enough hosting power, that it shouldn’t be an issue,” Isner said to Business Insider back in August. “I knew something was up and I had my web administrator go look into it.”

She went on to say the hacking attempt seemed partisan and that it appeared there was a lack of concern when hacks benefitted Republicans. As it turns out, some of that concern may have been a ploy for attention.

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In a profile of Isner for The New York Times Magazine by Ruth Graham, published on Wednesday, Isner acknowledged they saw the alleged hacking attempt as “an opportunity for publicity,” and said her campaign manager Megan Skipper implemented a strategy to alert the media because “why not.”

“A few days earlier, her web-hosting company alerted her to a spike in traffic on her campaign site,” Graham wrote for the New York Times Magazine. “Her webmaster found nearly 1,500 failed attempts to break in to the site, almost all of them from I.P. addresses in Russia. Isner and Skipper were alarmed, but they also figured the hacking was an opportunity for publicity. They emailed some local reporters, and Skipper tweeted at Rachel Maddow — why not? Only a week earlier, the Justice Department had announced indictments against 12 members of a Russian intelligence agency accused of launching a ‘sustained effort’ to hack Democrats’ computer networks.”

Their effort proved to be successful given it generated headlines from coast to coast. It raised the issue of further Russian interference in U.S. elections while it was a front-burner issue for Democrats given the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election led by former FBI director Robert Mueller.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

3 hours ago

Byrne to propose innovative bill to fund building the border wall

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) will soon introduce the “Fifty Votes for the Wall Act,” which would use the budget reconciliation process to overcome Democratic obstruction and fund the border wall.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Byrne explained the rationale behind his proposal, which he outlined further in an op-ed published by The Hill.

“The American people elected Donald Trump on the promise of building a border wall, and we can’t let Democrats continue to block funding from this critical project,” Byrne said.

He continued, “To be clear, border security is national security. Having a secure border is absolutely necessary if we want to cut down on crime and keep potential terrorists and bad actors out of our country. With this bill, we create a process to overcome the Democrat filibuster in the Senate and provide the money necessary to build the wall and keep the American people safe.”

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While Republicans currently have a majority in the Senate, the body’s rules allow Democrats to filibuster unless 60 senators vote to invoke what is called “cloture.” Byrne’s legislation would take advantage of Senate procedure so that 50 votes would be all the Republicans need to approve the border wall and its funding.

“The extreme tactics the minority has used to block President Trump’s border wall proposal is reckless and another example of how the left is being driven further and further to the extreme,” Byrne explained in his op-ed.

He outlined that his proposed method, called budget reconciliation, by which the Senate would only need 50 votes has been used before by both parties to pass contentious legislation. Democrats used it to pass Obamacare initially, and this same maneuver got the Republicans within one vote of a “skinny-repeal” of Obamacare last year. It also allowed for the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, better known as Trump’s tax reform package.

“There is no reason the same tactic cannot be used to fully fund the president’s border wall,” Byrne advised.

The congressman from southwest Alabama wants to see the House immediately begin this process when its members return to session in November.

When it comes to the details of funding the wall, Byrne wants to see the $25 billion cost of the project offset with cuts. He is open to working with his colleagues in both the House and the Senate to determine the best areas to cut, so that the wall can receive the votes necessary in both chambers.

It is important to remember that when Republican legislators like Byrne mention building “the wall,” we are talking about “physical barriers and associated detection technology, roads, and lighting along the southern border.” So, the wall has become a catch-all phrase for a comprehensive border security package that would also address underground tunnels and other nuances.

Byrne concluded, “Not only would my bill fully fund the wall, but it would take the wall building program out of the appropriations process and prevent Democrats from bottling up funding in future years. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, let’s not miss our chance to crack down on illegal immigration. Let’s use our majorities in both houses to get the wall built and keep the American people safe.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

AL-3 Dem congressional hopeful Mallory Hagan: I won’t support Pelosi for House Speaker if elected

In a Q & A interview that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the Montgomery Advertiser, third congressional district Democratic nominee Mallory Hagan said if she wins her election next month, she would not support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Speaker of the House.

The possibility of Hagan, a former Miss America, defeating incumbent Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) in the November 6 contest is considered to be a long-shot in the heavily Republican east Alabama congressional district. It is a district that President Donald Trump won by 33 points in the 2016 presidential election, and one Republicans have held since January 1997.

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When asked by the Advertiser if she would support Pelosi, Hagan said no.

“No,” she said. “Sixteen years is too long for Mike Rogers and too long for Nancy Pelosi.”

On the Republican side of the ticket, Rogers was asked a similar question about who would support to replace the outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). He indicated he would support current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.