4 months ago

Alabama Power, C Spire announce broadband partnership coming to Birmingham area

BIRMINGHAM — More broadband services will soon be coming to Alabamians in the Birmingham metropolitan area, including parts of Shelby County, thanks to Alabama Power Company and C Spire.

At a Thursday press conference at Regions Field, a new partnership was announce between the two companies similar to one they announced in Jasper last month.

Alabama Power’s existing fiber infrastructure will be used for what is called “the middle mile,” while C Spire will in some areas build out “the last mile,” which is an industry term meaning the final portion connecting the service to a consumer’s residence or business (the length is not always a mile or even close to it — it can be a matter of feet or several miles).

Executives from both companies attended the press conference, along with Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Jasper Mayor David O’Mary.

Tony Smoke, Birmingham division vice president for Alabama Power, said that even though the company itself is not the broadband service provider, Alabama Power is proud to be able to help bring the service to their customers — as “customers are at the center” of everything they do.

“We are thrilled to welcome C Spire to Birmingham and other parts of our state,” Smoke stated, saying being able to provide this type of positive economic impact “is what we’re all about.”

“We are committed to communities across our state,” he emphasized, explaining that even in northern areas of Alabama where the company does not provide electric services, Alabama Power still actively helps with economic development projects. “We do this because we care about Alabama. Our employees are in these cities, are in these communities. They live there. So, this kind of project … is huge for our employees, huge for our communities. We are proud and honored to serve in that role.”

“It may be a pun, but we do believe that fiber infrastructure helps us have better connections with our communities and makes our communities stronger,” he added.

This type of partnership, in which a broadband provider can utilize an electric utility’s existing infrastructure and right-of-ways, was made possible through legislation championed by the likes of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition this past session — HB 400, which was sponsored by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) and championed by Reed. Additionally, SB 90 was passed to expand eligibility for and update a state grant program for broadband expansion.

“I’m proud of the role we played in creating this opportunity for Alabama communities,” Reed said. “But I am even prouder of the partnerships that we have forged with C Spire, Alabama Power and others and the investment they are making in our state. That investment will pay dividends for consumers and businesses.”

He emphasized the importance of high-speed internet access to the present and future success of the state.

“If Alabama is going to be everything we want her to be economically, we must include all the areas of our state in that boon — in that opportunity and that growth,” Reed stressed. “And as we’ve seen Alabama’s economy be super strong, it is not as strong in certain urban areas, it is not as strong in some rural areas. And some of the reason [for that] is because we don’t have internet services … it’s a must for us to be able to move Alabama forward.”

Reed and O’Mary both touched on the fact that while Jasper is certainly a very different size and type of city than Birmingham, they are bonded together because they both face a “digital divide.”

Woodfin explained that while many people assume all of the City of Birmingham has ideal internet access, that is simply not the case. Reed reiterated this and said this applies to other larger population centers across the state, as well as more rural areas.

“You would think in certain areas of the state where you have [interstate] highways and the like, that there would be easy access to the internet superhighway. That’s not always the case,” Reed commented.

“As I’ve said before, no matter where they live, every single student, family, worker and business owner in Alabama should have access to fast, reliable internet that allows them to thrive in the 21st-century economy,” he added. “It’s through partnerships like this one that we are working to make that a reality.”

C Spire is a privately-held Mississippi-based telecommunications and technology company, with no affiliation with the gas company Spire. C Spire’s president and CEO Hu Meena spoke during the press conference and with members of the media after the event.

Meena encouraged other municipal leaders from across the Birmingham area and Alabama as a whole to reach out to them to express their desire to have the company come in and offer broadband services.

The company will offer all-fiber Gigabit speed broadband internet access and related services to homes and businesses in Alabama beginning in 2020, and Meena stressed that exact service locations and timelines will primarily be determined by customer demand. Meena said another announcement will be coming on how municipal leaders — and potential customers — can express their interest in the services.

“Today is a big day in the life of our company,” Meena stated. “While we’ve had a presence in southern Alabama (Mobile) for decades and our Alabama headquarters are here in the Birmingham area, we plan to make our all-fiber broadband services available to homes and businesses across the state next year.”

C Spire is looking for areas of Alabama enthusiastic about broadband services, similar to the high level of interest expressed by both O’Mary and Woodfin.

“The communities that want this game-changing infrastructure and services the most will get it first,” Meena explained.

Woodfin certainly showed his enthusiasm during his speech, as well as beforehand — energetically making his way throughout the standing-room-only crowd and thanking seemingly each and every person for attending.

“This is a great investment in the future of Birmingham and our metro area,” Woodfin said at the podium.

The Magic City mayor delivered powerful remarks on how important high-speed broadband services are to not just the modern digital economy but to quality of life in general — as well as other areas like education.

“In Birmingham, we are committed to creating an inclusive economy that provides the best opportunities in education, workforce development and entrepreneurship for everyone,” Woodfin advised, noting that technology investment and broadband infrastructure by C Spire are critical to the city’s economic future.

Reed added that especially in rural areas, broadband is increasingly important for healthcare through telemedicine.

“The city of Birmingham has always been a city of builders,” Woodfin concluded, saying that this partnership in building out fiber infrastructure is just the latest example.

For more information about C Spire’s broadband plans in Alabama, click here.

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

6 hours ago

Full Moon Bar-B-Que brings cheer, warm meal to Birmingham families

During this period of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak across the nation, Full Moon Bar-B-Que is offering Alabamians a way to reach out a helping hand to neighbors and friends.

Through its new “Feed a Friend” initiative, Full Moon is choosing 10 families in the Birmingham area to receive a free meal. Each family will receive Full Moon’s value meal, which includes a pound of pork or chicken, fresh bread, two sides and the restaurant’s famous cookies. The program will run through Friday, April 4.

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“Now is the time to help people in need,” said co-owner David Maluff. “Full Moon Bar-B-Que is blessed by a loyal, supportive community. During these trying times we want to focus on our own Full Moon Bar-B-Que community and help them meet the needs of people they know that may be struggling. These times are an opportunity to spread light every day in our communities and that is just what Full Moon Bar-B-Que aims to do. It doesn’t matter if it is a family of two, four, six, eight or 10, Full Moon Bar-B-Que looks forward to feeding them and delivering hope during this stressful season.”

Nominating a friend for the free meal is easy: Follow Full Moon Bar-B-Que on Facebook and Instagram. Then help spread the word and keep the momentum going by tagging two friends to Full Moon’s “Feed a Friend” social media post.

Finally, send a message through Facebook or Instagram to Full Moon Bar-B-Que with a brief description of why your friend deserves a free meal, along with that person’s address and the number of members in the family.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

Lakeshore Foundation weighs in on postponed Olympics, Paralympics

Joe Delagrave grew up in Wisconsin but was raised on a staple of a Southern breakfast – grits.

“My mom used to make those growing up, so I have no problems with grits,” said Delagrave, the captain of the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair rugby team. “She had a Southern heart. She always made some good home cooking.”

For 12 years, Delagrave and his fellow wheelchair rugby players have feasted on the home cooking at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Facility at Lakeshore Foundation in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Lakeshore is home for this U.S. squad as it prepares to contend for Paralympic gold.

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But that team and athletes in other Olympic and Paralympic sports learned this week they’ll have to put the brakes on their chance to represent their country with the announcement that the 2020 Summer Olympic Games have been postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lakeshore Foundation CEO Jeff Underwood said the likelihood of that decision seemed more and more likely as the Tokyo Games drew closer to their scheduled July 24 to Aug. 9 competition window.

The Paralympics were to have been Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

“It just underscores the seriousness of the situation and the fact that it’s having impacts on every aspect of our lives,” Underwood said. “On the other hand, it was not a cancellation; it was a postponement. That’s an important distinction. The games will go on, just not on their predicted schedule.”

A few days before the announcement to postpone the games, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee surveyed American athletes on the matter. They overwhelmingly suggested postponement and USOPC formally supported that move.

While Lakeshore staffers were disappointed by the needed delay, Underwood said the true pain is felt by athletes who put their lives on hold the past four years in pursuit of a dream.

“They put their families, their jobs, their careers on hold with the idea that as of this summer they would have maybe moved on to other things,” he said. “Now they’ve got to decide whether they want to keep their lives on hold for another year.”

The delay will benefit some who weren’t quite ready for 2020. Some had circled 2020 as the end of their career, one last shot. “Who knows,” the Lakeshore leader asked, “whether they’ll be able, willing to participate again?”

Underwood particularly feels for the wheelchair rugby team that lost in double overtime to Australia in the 2016 gold medal game in Rio de Janeiro.

“My sense is they were at the top of their game,” the Lakeshore CEO said. “They had just come back from the tournament in London a couple of months ago, where they won handily over some of their top opponents.

“We watch these guys train so hard,” he continued. “They’re hungry. And they’ve been working darn hard and everything seemed to be falling in place for that team, leading up to the games this summer.”

Delagrave had even more motivation. He was an alternate in 2016 and didn’t get to compete. The captain of the current squad compared his anticipation to being a child waiting all year for Christmas.

“We were almost at that Thanksgiving point where ‘Man, it’s here. It’s coming quick,’” he said. “Now it’s postponed.”

It’ll be a while before athletes have a definitive new target for the games. Delagrave said they’re caught in limbo amid rumors the Olympics and Paralympics may be in the spring or perhaps on the same dates in 2021.

“Once we find that out, I think it’ll add some more clarity,” he said. “We’ll get our schedule down from the administrators and from our head coach and we can start to circle some dates and then get really re-excited and re-energized about everything.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Hyundai is asking South Korea for medical supplies on behalf of Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed

The Hyundai Motor Corporation is in conversation with the government of South Korea about sending surplus medical supplies to Alabama after a request for assistance by Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed.

Hyundai is based in Seoul, South Korea and has a large plant in the Montgomery area.

“Our community’s strong ties with Hyundai Motor Corporation coupled with our shortage of needed medical supplies prompted our request for assistance,” said Reed in a statement.

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As the nations of the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the actions of South Korean leaders have been unparalleled in protecting their citizens and suppressing the Coronavirus infection rate,” explained Reed about why he reached out to Hyundai.

Currently, Hyundai is identifying which South Korean supplies have approval from the FDA for use in America.

As of 9:52 a.m. on Saturday, March 28, Alabama has 644 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Montgomery County has 18, Elmore County has 12 and Autauga County has 6.

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

Ainsworth: Closing public schools is the right call in the fight against COVID-19 in Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey and the members of his learning options task force deserve commendation for making the difficult decision to keep K-12 public schools across Alabama physically closed for the remainder of the academic year.

The closure certainly disappoints students who will remain separated from their teachers and classmates for the time being, and some parents may even be wary of its necessity, but the public health and safety of millions of Alabamians demanded that it be done.

Consider for a moment that in the past two weeks, almost 550 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Alabama, and those numbers continue to climb dramatically each day. Deaths are beginning to occur across the state, and dozens of Alabamians are at this moment fighting for their lives on ICU ventilators.

Proms and graduation ceremonies can be held at a later date, and extracurricular activities and sports can be postponed, but protecting our families and stopping the spread of this invisible killer requires us to take action now.

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My wife, Kendall, and I are parents to twin boys, Hunter and Hays, who are in fourth grade, and a daughter, Addie, who is in second grade, so we understand that the responsibility of continuing their education falls on our shoulders for the foreseeable future.

Each parent across the state is going to have to set up and follow a school structure from home for their children in order to ensure they do not fall behind academically. Parental responsibility has never been more important.

To assist in those efforts, Dr. Mackey and his task force are working with each school district to provide instructional support to homebound students through distance learning, which allows teachers to share lessons, answer questions, and give assignments using broadband Internet and video technology.

Dr. Mackey and team have published guidance that will help school districts be able to serve students who do not have access to broadband internet. In some cases, instructional packets will be assembled and sent to the home, and completed assignments will be returned through the mail.

Alabama Public Television has also committed to broadcast classroom instructional programs for K-12 public school students studying at home.

Many students from low-income backgrounds depend upon their schools to provide free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches and supplement the nutrition that they may be lacking at home.

To help ensure these students receive the nourishment they need, a number of locations across the state are making free meals available to any child who is 18-years-old or younger. No paperwork is required, and no questions are asked, but to ensure social distancing is maintained, the meals must be picked up onsite and consumed elsewhere.

A list of feeding locations in cities, towns, and communities across Alabama may be found by visiting www.breakforaplate.com on the Internet.

Likewise, in areas where school supplies prove scarce or difficult to acquire, school systems may deliver them to students according to bus routes.

Local systems will be working, as well, to provide necessary services and continuing support to students with disabilities and special needs.

Reopening our classrooms in the long-term will depend upon every Alabamian following social distancing, self-isolation, and other public health guidelines in the short-term.

Even with hospitals in New York, California, and Louisiana exceeding capacity and COVID-19 cases in Alabama on the rise, too many among us are not taking the threat seriously, and by doing so, they are endangering themselves and everyone they encounter.

The best way to stop this virus is to act as if you have the virus by staying home, avoiding public situations to the fullest extent possible, and using simple common sense.

As I have noted before, Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so the best way that we can all stand together against COVID-19 is by staying apart.

The on-going pandemic has forced many inconveniences and changes in our daily lives, and the closure of schools for the coming months certainly ranks high among them.

But emptying our schools to protect the public health and safety is far better than having them empty because our children are sick and fighting for their lives against the COVID-19 virus.

Will Ainsworth is the lieutenant governor of Alabama and serves as an appointed member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 Task Force.

13 hours ago

Is it safe to order food delivery during COVID-19 outbreak? CDC, UAB experts say yes

Feel free to order that pizza or call in for curbside pickup at your favorite local restaurant: The risk of contracting COVID-19 through food delivery or pickup – the packaging or the food itself – is low, according to leading health organizations and Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

Food delivery has been recommended as a simple way to maintain social-distancing practices during the global COVID-19 outbreak, because there is little risk of virus transmission through food itself, says Ian Williams, Ph.D., chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention branch of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which investigates food and waterborne illnesses.

The United States Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture concur; no organization has reported that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. The biggest risk of transmission, Williams says, is in exposure to individuals who are symptomatic.

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“There is no evidence out there, so far with [COVID-19], that it’s foodborne-driven or food service-driven,” Williams stated in a webinar. “This really is respiratory, person-to-person. At this point, there is no evidence really pointing us toward food [or] food service as ways that are driving the epidemic.”

Food packaging also poses little risk; Dionne-Odom says she encourages people to continue shopping for needed items, including food, via delivery services. Just remember to wash your hands frequently, she cautions.

“Packages will be coming from a number of hands, and you might not know the symptom status of everyone who touched it along the way,” Dionne-Odom said. “Wash your hands after opening and handling the package. That will kill the germs.”

To minimize the risk to households frequently utilizing curbside pickup services, Dionne-Odom recommends designating the same person to pick up the order each time.

“Ideally, this person would not be symptomatic, be under the age of 60 and have no chronic medical conditions,” she said. “It makes it simplest for them to have a procedure for each time they come and go – washing their hands carefully every time they enter and exit the home.”

For those who live in a walkable community, Dionne-Odom says walking to pick up takeout can be a healthy activity to prevent feeling stir-crazy and engage your body during periods of isolation.

“We want people not to go crazy sitting inside,” she said. “It’s OK to go outside and get fresh air. You always want to maintain that 6 feet of separation from others, but we encourage people to get outside for their mental health and for all the other reasons it’s good to get outside.”

For more information about COVID-19, visit UAB’s official resource page.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)