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.
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