11 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

3 hours ago

OK, it’s time to start talking about opening up Alabama’s economy

The irresponsibility of the media, national public health officials and China has effectively destroyed our economy, individual businesses and American lives.

It is time to look for the exit ramp.

On March 14, Ramsey Archibald, son of John Archibald, was responsible for a completely ridiculous piece of video that rightly scared the heck out of many Alabamians.

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Archibald helped push the message that 2.5 million Alabamians would get the coronavirus, adding, “Let’s be conservative and say 50% get COVID-19.”

But wait, there’s more.

The video also makes the following claims:

  • 500,000 will need to be treated at a hospital.
  • 125,000 will need treatment at an intensive care unit.
  • 25,000 people could die

The Alabama Media Group “data reporter” painted this projection of millions getting sick and 25,000 dead as the best-case scenario.

He — and his publication — got it wrong. Big time.

But it worked. In concert with other lunatics, they declared that Alabama Governor Kay Ivey wanted people to die, or was at least cool with it, if she didn’t declare Alabama to be a “shelter-in-place” state.

After all, they just heard of such a thing and the smart states were doing it, so the dummies in Alabama should do it as well.

I, for my part, saw this for what it was and pointed out that at some point the governor’s office would cave and make the order, so she should just do it.

That’s exactly what happened.

The numbers began to change.

March 14 — 25,000
March 31 — 1,700
April 1 — 7,300+
April 2 — 5,500+
April 5 — 923
April 8 — 634

Now, this other info came from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projections.

Archibald’s info? A CBS News piece and a calculator. The projection went from 25,000 to 634 in less than a month.

The national line moved from 2.2 million to 60,000+ in that same time frame.

But the storyline didn’t reflect that change.

“People will die!” after all.

It won’t change now either.

It’s time to acknowledge that Alabama should be figuring out how to get back open for business.

Here is my suggestion how:

  1. Social distancing continues until August 1
  2. All businesses, outside of bars, restaurants and sporting events, can open on May 1
  3. Bars, restaurants and sporting events can open on May 15 with half occupancy
  4. Everything can fully open up on June 1
  5. Dates can change based on data

Why these dates?

Why not? Archibald based his on less.

The other steps we took were based on incorrect information and a guess.

Nations in Europe are doing similar things, and I thought people wanted us to be like Europe.

Give Alabamians some hope. Let them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Be optimistic, but safe. Be smart, but understand that people are suffering here.

Jobs and businesses are already lost, unemployment is through the roof. It’s time to show the people of Alabama that there was a reason for that.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

3 hours ago

Yellowhammer connects your business to Alabama consumers

After nine years, our mission remains the same: reflect our state, its people and their values. As the state’s second-largest media outlet, Yellowhammer connects your business to the people of Alabama.

Online, on the radio, podcasts, events and more. What can Yellowhammer do for you?

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3 hours ago

Ainsworth encourages Alabamians to ‘Ring for the Resurrection’ on Easter

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is asking all Alabamians to join him in a “Ring for the Resurrection” campaign on Easter Sunday. The effort is intended to promote unity at this COVID-19 time of prolonged separation and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ following his crucifixion.

Ring for the Resurrection, which was created by Ainsworth, calls for all churches and individuals across the Yellowhammer State to ring a bell at noon on Sunday, April 12, in joint celebration of the holiday.

“Social distancing guidelines require us to remain apart from our extended families, church members, and other individuals on a sacred religious holiday that normally encourages us to gather together,” Ainsworth said in a statement on Wednesday. “But I realized that the simple act of ringing a bell can allow us to remain physically distant while being united in spirit.”

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“My wife, Kendall, our twin boys, Hunter and Hays, and our daughter, Addie, will be among those ringing a bell at noon on Sunday to celebrate the miracle of Easter,” he concluded. “While Gov. Ivey’s stay-at-home order, the public’s health and safety, and simple common sense prevent Christians from gathering in large groups even on the holiest of days, all of us can join together in spirit as we ring a bell to recognize that Christ has risen.”

This comes after Ainsworth earlier this week unveiled a new website designed to provide small business owners with a one-stop online information hub related to the ongoing pandemic.

RELATED: Ivey announces campaign encouraging Alabamians to pray for medical personnel, first responders

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

4 hours ago

COVID-19 restrictions unfairly choke small business

When Mark and Susan Anderson were required by a statewide mandate to close the doors of their Dothan clothing and outdoor gear store, Eagle Eye Outfitters, they felt like it was a necessary sacrifice for the good of public health. By limiting retail shopping to essential items such as groceries, prescriptions, and fuel, the governor’s order takes a great many people off the streets.

Hopefully, it slows the spread of the rampant COVID-19 virus. But the closure is incredibly painful for owners like them: it has forced them to furlough more than 150 employees, and the massive loss of revenue will leave a mark on their business for years.

What the Andersons don’t understand was how it is fair for one of their local competitors, the national chain Academy Sports and Outdoors, to continue selling the same types of apparel and outdoor gear.

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In this case, the loophole for Academy is their small firearms counter. Guns and ammunition are considered essential under the current order. Therefore, Academy and others who carry firearms have been allowed to continue to do business — even if guns and ammunition are only a small percentage of their overall sales.

One of the unintended consequences of the mandate is that small businesses, which often specialize in a more narrow range of merchandise, are penalized more heavily than their national chain competitors.

You heard that right: businesses owned and operated by Alabamians are absorbing the crushing cost of total closure, while national chains based out of state continue to snatch up what little retail demand still exists in the downturn.

If all businesses operating in Alabama were restricted from selling non-essential goods, small businesses might at least expect to benefit from the pent-up economic demand that will exist once the mandate is lifted. As it is, demand for those goods and services is funneled immediately to the big chains, cutting small business owners out of the deal entirely.

Bob Couch of Couch’s Jewelers feels that his small business is paying a higher price than others, as well. While he is forced to shutter his 75-year-old family jewelry store in downtown Anniston, Wal-Mart is allowed to continue selling jewelry just a short distance away. Because they carry groceries and have a pharmacy, they are allowed to sell anything.

None of the small business owners I spoke with this week felt the retail sales restrictions were unnecessary, given the scope and seriousness of the pandemic. But they think the state government has picked winners and losers with a poorly-conceived order.

They are right. And the governor can correct it today if she chooses.

Vermont heard a similar outcry from its small business community. In response, it amended its closure order so that businesses that remain open to offer essentials are limited to just those sales. In a large department store that offers a variety of goods, selling non-essentials is temporarily prohibited. No more going to Wal-Mart for groceries, but then wandering the aisles looking for a pair of gold earrings or a sleeping bag.

These are trying times for businesses of every size. But there’s no good reason for our own state government to damage Alabama’s small business owners further.

None of us likes the loss of civil liberties, or the freedom to do business as we choose — not even for a day. But if our current public health concerns are so extraordinary as to require such restrictions, the least government can do is ensure that they be equally and fairly applied. Every business operating in this state — big box or main street — should bear its share of the burden.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

6 hours ago

Alabama community colleges donate medical supplies to those fighting COVID-19

Community colleges across Alabama, many of which house nursing programs, are donating their medical equipment to those on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.

According to a release from the Alabama Community College System (ACCS), many campuses across Alabama have equipment for their “simulated healthcare settings” where students train for medical careers.

“We are grateful for the daily sacrifice of Alabama’s healthcare providers and are grateful we can do our part to help serve our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the ACCS.

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The equipment donated includes much sought-after ventilators that can help treat the most serious coronavirus cases.

The community colleges also handed out their supply of Personal Protective Equipment like masks to cover the face to local hospitals.

“Much like our efforts to meet the needs of every student that crosses our paths, our colleges work every day to help meet the needs of the communities they serve,” added Baker.

“On behalf of the Alabama Department of Public Health, I am grateful for the willingness of the Alabama Community College System to grant the urgent request for the loan of their available ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” commented State Health Officer Scott Harris.

“We are continually encouraged by the number of entities across the state that are rising to the occasion to meet the needs of the citizens of Alabama,” Harris concluded.

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