8 months ago

Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition brings together legislative leaders, state’s biggest job creators in supporting HB 400

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition (ARBC) Wednesday held a press conference on the State House steps, emphasizing that legislation currently pending in the legislature is key to the state’s future prosperity.

The state’s biggest job creators, spanning an array of industries and fields, are members of the coalition.

A statement from ARBC explains, “We believe having a reliable internet connection is not only a basic personal necessity in today’s society, but high speed broadband access in rural Alabama could bring an array of benefits related to education, telemedicine, economic development and agriculture.”

The coalition is supporting State Rep. Randall Shedd’s (R-Fairview) HB 400, which will be on the House floor on Thursday. Legislative leaders spoke at the press conference, throwing their support behind the bill and stressing the importance of high-speed broadband access for all areas of Alabama.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) kicked things off, saying, “Alabama’s economy is booming with record low unemployment, wages on the rise, new industries continuing to choose the state to expand their business, however we are lacking in [providing] critical broadband infrastructure to all of our citizens.”

Marsh explained that the ARBC is rapidly growing, calling the coalition “an impressive list of people.”

“We have got to look at the future of this state with rural broadband, and this group has been studying this issue, and through that, we have legislation that will be flowing through the Senate in this next week to address these issues and expedite broadband around this great state of Alabama,” he added.

The coalition

Key members of the ARBC as follows:

Agriculture/Conservation:
• ALFA Farmers Federation
• Alabama Agribusiness Council
• Alabama Cattleman’s Association
• Alabama Poultry & Egg Association
Business:
• Business Council of Alabama
• Alabama Association of Realtors
• Alabama Bankers Association
• Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives
• Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama
• Homebuilders Association of Alabama
• Energy Institute of Alabama
• Manufacture Alabama
• NFIB of Alabama
• Southeast Gas
Economic Development:
• Economic Development Association of Alabama
• Alliance for Alabama Infrastructure
• Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association
• Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority
Education:
• Alabama Community College System
• Auburn University
• Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools
• School Superintendents of Alabama
• The University of Alabama System
•Alabama Education Association
Healthcare:
• Alabama Hospital Association

The legislation

Marsh then thanked State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), who sponsored the Alabama Rural Broadband Act in 2018 and is carrying SB 90 this session to increase the maximum covered project cost under the grant program created by that historic legislation.

SB 90 would additionally change the definition of an “unserved area,” update the minimum service threshold and broaden the permitted use of federal support, including loans and grants, in projects receiving grants under the legislation. The bill is on the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee’s agenda for 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) will carry HB 400 in the Senate, and Marsh also praised his leadership in that endeavor.

“These are the two bills that will help us… provide for our citizens, who I believe consider the broadband infrastructure a ‘number one issue’ for the state of Alabama,” Marsh emphasized. “It will have great impact on all of our education… as well as economic development.”

HB 400, which would have no cost to the state or local governments, confirms that electric providers can install, operate and maintain broadband systems using their existing electric easements.

This is expected to encourage electric providers to invest in broadband deployment and accelerate the cost-effective expansion of broadband access in rural Alabama, in many cases using existing infrastructure.

Electric providers may also work with affiliates or third parties under contract to help provide broadband under HB 400.

‘The 21st-century economy’

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) spoke after Marsh, stressing that rural broadband is the key to Alabama competing in modern times.

“I want to thank Senator Scofield for being a visionary in our state on broadband,” Ainsworth said. “And certainly I want to thank my friend in the House, Representative Shedd, for carrying House Bill 400.”

“Our purpose in why we’re here today is to let everyone know we are dedicated to addressing the infrastructure problem that we have in our state that keeps many people and businesses in Alabama from sharing in the 21st century economy — access to fast, reliable internet service is critical to our state’s economic viability,” he added. “Our economy is strong, but we can do better, especially in rural parts of Alabama.”

Ainsworth outlined the education and economic development ramifications of not having the proper access to broadband in rural parts of the Yellowhammer State. He specifically mentioned the modern agriculture industry’s need for dependable, quality internet access and said HB 400 would allow farmers across Alabama to have that access and compete in the 21st-century economy.

“Besides the great benefit broadband access brings to small businesses, it is also a necessity for our school children, of which I have three that go to public schools,” Ainsworth explained. “Our young student should not have to fall behind because of where they live. This bill is going to solve that.”

“House Bill 400 is a roadmap to solving this problem and making Alabama better for education, for our economy and for the future,” he concluded.

Milkshakes, hamburgers and WiFi

Next up was Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who echoed the previous comments about economic development and education. He said that the legislation will “move broadband forward in Alabama.”

“When you’re a guy that represents a rural district as I do in areas like Fayette County, Winston County – if you go to the McDonald’s in those communities at 3:00 in the afternoon right after school, you realize there’s a lot of folks there. And they’re not only there for the milkshake and the hamburger, but they’re there for the WiFi,” Reed explained. “Because if the kids in those communities are going to get their homework done in the afternoon, they’ve got to go to a spot that allows there to be internet access. And unfortunately, 70 percent of the school kids in some of the district that I represent do not have broadband access when they leave school to go home.”

He continued, “This is a big problem, and we’re trying hard to address it with the… legislation the House and the Senate are working on.”

Reed also outlined that broadband access is just as important for economic development in rural districts like his.

“We’re not going to allow Alabama’s economy to be everything she wants to be [without improvements in rural broadband],” he emphasized, calling the legislation “a great opportunity for the state of Alabama.”

‘Bring all of Alabama into the internet age’

Shedd followed Reed in speaking, stressing that the legislation “means so much to so many in Alabama.”

He called his bill, HB 400, a “critical avenue” to strengthening the state’s economy, education system and health care network.

“Quick, reliable internet service could even be a lifesaver in small communities,” Shedd said of health care benefits, singling out “advances in telemedicine.”

Shedd advised that HB 400 would prohibit electric providers from requiring a consumer purchase internet service to use their electricity service.

“This issue is so important,” Shedd said.

He added that the ARBC is working together to “bring all of Alabama into the internet age.”

Brannon Littleton, director of the Montgomery School of Music, then addressed the crowd from a small business perspective.

He said broadband access also allows him to teach military members across the globe, which Littleton described as life-changing for individuals.

“If we’re going to change the lives of people in our state for the good, we must not leave those behind who are on the fringes,” he said.

Whitney Barlow, executive director of the Chilton County Industrial Development Board, wrapped the press conference up, speaking on behalf of rural economic development professionals and job creators across the Yellowhammer State.

She said companies looking to locate into their area first ask about workforce, followed quickly by, “Do you have broadband and do you have accessible internet?”

Barlow said rural counties “have so much to offer” businesses, “but our inability to offer adequate broadband has been an issue for now over 15 years.”

“When we grow our broadband in this state, we will make us competitive with our other southeastern states as well as the country,” she concluded. “Broadband is very, very important to economic development, but it’s not just important for companies, it’s important for the quality of life of our citizens.”

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), Senate Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia), State Rep. David Standridge (R-Hayden), Scofield and Livingston were also in attendance, supporting the effort.

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

11 hours ago

Ivey visits hometown Camden to commemorate bicentennial — ‘Y’all, Alabama has come a long way’

CAMDEN — On Friday, on the eve of the culmination of Alabama’s Bicentennial celebration set to take place in Montgomery, Gov. Kay Ivey paid a visit to her hometown to take part in an event marking the milestone in her home county of Wilcox.

Not far from where Ivey attended high school as part of Wilcox County High School’s class of 1963, the governor participated in a ceremony that also included Camden Mayor Bill Creswell and Wilcox County Commissioner Bill Albritton.

After offering a list of the state’s achievements, Ivey remarked on how far Alabama had come.

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“During these 200 years, Alabama has celebrated some pretty incredible people and milestones,” she said. “Building a rocket that took a man to the moon, our rich Native American history and culture, becoming the birthplace for civil rights, and becoming an international market for goods and products. Y’all, Alabama has come a long way.”

She also noted that the events leading up to the bicentennial celebration kicked almost immediately after she assumed the role governor in 2017 and led her to make at least one visit in all of Alabama’s 67 counties.

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

While speaking to the press at the return to her hometown, Ivey expressed how great she felt about being back in her hometown and what her goals were as the state heads into its third century.

“We’re proud to be here in Wilcox County and in my hometown of Camden to celebrate the bicentennial of Wilcox County, and tomorrow we’ll celebrate the bicentennial of Alabama. It is sure great to be home,” Ivey stated.

“Certainly, we want to keep the economy going, keep the everybody working, get more people that are not working to work,” she continued. “We just want to make the quality of life in our state really good, so everybody has an opportunity to be and do what they want to do.”

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

Ivey also offered some words of advice for her hometown and county in the pursuit of a better quality of life.

“Y’all just make this place an attractive place to live and do business, have a strong education system so people can put their children in schools, then in touch with the Department of Commerce to get prospects to look us over,” she said.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

11 hours ago

Three Crimson Tide players, Auburn’s Derrick Brown named Walter Camp All-Americans

University of Alabama football players Xavier McKinney, Jaylen Waddle and Jedrick Wills, Jr. have been named to the Walter Camp All-America second-team, while Auburn University’s Derrick Brown made the first-team.

McKinney is a safety, Waddle is a wide receiver selected to the team as a returner on special teams, Wills is an offensive tackle and Brown is a defensive tackle.

The Walter Camp Foundation announced the honors Thursday evening at the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show.

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McKinney, a junior, ranked 12th in the SEC in tackles with 85 through 12 games. He was also the Crimson Tide leader in tackles this season, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks. He forced four fumbles and added three interceptions to go with five pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. The star defensive back also returned one of his interceptions for an 81-yard touchdown.

Waddle led the nation in punt return average at 24.9 yards per return with 19 for 474 yards and a touchdown, including a long of 77. The sophomore also returned four kickoffs for 152 yards and one score and added more than 53 yards and six touchdowns on 32 catches at wideout this season. Earlier this week, he was selected as a first team All-American at returner by Pro Football Focus and named SEC Special Teams Player of the Year.

Wills anchored an offensive line that has surrendered only 12 sacks in 381 pass attempts this season. He graded out at over 91% for the Tide along the front allowing only one sack all season and only 3.5 quarterback hurries while missing only seven assignments in 714 snaps for a success rate of 99.9%.

Brown had a monster season on the defensive side of the ball and landed as a finalist for just about every national award possible. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year by both the conference coaches and The Associated Press.

This is the 130th edition of the Walter Camp All-America team, the nation’s oldest such team.

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

11 hours ago

Marshall applauds federal court ruling that plaintiffs challenging Alabama’s minimum wage law lack standing

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the State of Alabama on Friday, saying that the plaintiffs challenging Alabama’s 2016 minimum wage law lacked standing to file their racial discrimination claim against the Alabama Attorney General.

The law being challenged holds that no Alabama municipality can raise its minimum wage higher than the state of Alabama’s minimum wage. The law was enacted by the state legislature after Birmingham attempted to raise the minimum wage paid by businesses in the city to $10.1o per hour. The minimum wage in Alabama is $7.25 an hour. Twenty-two states have similar laws to the one on Alabama’s books.

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In response to Alabama’s new law, the plaintiffs in question from Friday’s ruling filed a civil rights action in federal court arguing the law perpetuated white supremacy and violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

Notably, the court did not rule on whether the equal protection claim had merit, but rather ruled that the suit was wrongfully being brought because their alleged damages were not “fairly traceable” to conduct by the AG.

“I am pleased with the 11th Circuit’s ruling today, which agreed with the State of Alabama that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue the Attorney General over their complaints about Alabama’s minimum wage law,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall.  “I also think the substance of the plaintiffs’ challenge lacked merit, but the court withheld judgment on that question because the plaintiffs failed to show that the Attorney General ever harmed them.”

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

13 hours ago

Black Belt Workforce Center opens in Demopolis

Private and public officials gathered in Demopolis Friday to announce the opening of the Black Belt Workforce Center.

The center will provide training for job seekers and employers, job application assistance, resume help and a computer lab. The center will also provide retraining and retooling for job seekers who were previously in the workforce but need help competing for the jobs available today.

“We knew that we needed to serve some of our most critical areas in Alabama by creating a center in the Black Belt. This is a place for both job hunters and employers to find resources to help them succeed,” said West Alabama Works Executive Director Donny Jones.

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The center is a collaboration between West Alabama Works, the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council (SAWDC), Central Alabama Works, and numerous governmental and nonprofit stakeholders in the area. It will be helmed by Tammi Holley.

The center is very close to the Alabama Department of Labor’s facility in the area, a department with which the training center plans to work in concert.

Jim Page is the CEO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, which houses West Alabama Works.

He told Yellowhammer, “Even though Alabama has got a very strong economy right now and we’ve got record low unemployment, there are still far too many people who are unemployed or underemployed.”

“A major reason for that is the lack of education, lack of training, and lack of certain skill sets needed to compete for jobs, or to get a better job. We’ve long felt it important to go into our more rural areas, particularly the black belt, to make the resources more readily available closer to the people, and meet them where they are,” Page added.

Unique among workforce development initiatives in Alabama is the partnership with a local drug prevention organization: The Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE). The Tuscaloosa-based PRIDE plans to work with the center to help increase drug prevention efforts in the surrounding community.

“One of the biggest problems that workforce development has is keeping kids where they can pass a drug screening,” Derrick Osborne, the Executive Director of PRIDE told Yellowhammer on the phone.

According to Osborne, PRIDE is “trying to help people understand addiction before they become addicted.”

He added, “We want to say, you don’t have to use a drug because you feel like there isn’t anywhere for you to go. There is hope, there are things to look forward to in your life.”

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

14 hours ago

Watch: Alabamians line up with American flags to welcome slain Naval ensign home

As seen in a video posted on Twitter, people lined the streets of Enterprise on Friday to welcome home Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson.

Watson, a 23-year-old Coffee County native who also spent many of his formative years in Blount County, was killed in last week’s shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The hero’s body arrived at Dothan Regional Airport on Friday and then a procession took him to Searcy Funeral Home in Enterprise.

Considering Fort Rucker’s presence, the area has a high percentage of military families, making Watson’s murder that much harder on the Wiregrass community. People lined the procession route with American flags, honoring his service, sacrifice and life.

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A public memorial service for Watson will take place at the Enterprise High School Performing Arts Center at 11:00 a.m. next Saturday, December 21.

Burial will be the following day at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. Governor Kay Ivey has ordered flags to half-staff on that day of internment: Sunday, December 22.

RELATED: How the hometown of a NAS Pensacola shooting hero is paying tribute to one of their own

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