7 days ago

Broadband executive talks what went into major FCC auction that will help bring high-speed internet to rural Alabamians

Yellowhammer News spoke this week to an executive at one of the internet providers involved with the massive FCC initiative set to bring high-speed internet to over 200,000 homes and businesses in rural Alabama.

The FCC initiative is called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). In essence, the FCC identified census tracts where homes and businesses had no access to the internet or speeds of less than 25 Mbps. The agency then offered financial incentives to providers who would agree to cover those areas.

To determine which companies would cover which areas, the FCC held a reverse auction: firms competed to provide the lowest bid for what it would cost to service each tract.

Yellowhammer spoke this week with Butch Brock, vice president of Corporate Development at Point Broadband, a company that secured several dozen tracts in East Alabama, about what the process was like and what consumers can expect.

Based in West Point, Georgia, Point Broadband operates an office in Opelika and provides internet to many in the Auburn area.

Point purchased dozens of census tracts in East Alabama in the RDOF auction, from as far south as Eufala up to areas just north of Piedmont.

The areas Point Broadband will service. (Point Broadband/Contributed)

Brock told Yellowhammer that Point faced competition for each census block they bid on. “There was more than one bidder that was going to offer what we offer, which is gigabit service,” he noted.

The executive further relayed Point, and the other bidders who won the FCC awards in the reverse auction are now going through “the long-form process, where you really have to submit your engineering, your details of how you’re going to get this thing done within the required time period.”

Brock believes that some companies that won bids may run into “snags” during the long-form process, which he says will last six months.

He maintained that Point’s plan would not face any issues and instead highlighted Elon Musks’ SpaceX as an example of a firm that may have issues providing what it promised.

The subsidies companies like Point earned when they won bids in the RDOF reverse auction payout each month for a decade.

According to Brock, Point’s total subsidy from the FCC is around $50 million, meaning the federal agency will pay Point Broadband around $5 million a year once they complete the long-form approval process.

Brock relayed that a requirement of the long-form certification was companies must “put up a letter of credit that is equal to one year of the subsidy you are getting.” He says the intention of that rule is to let the FCC know that businesses “have the wherewithal” to complete the servicing of the tracts they purchased.

Winners of the reverse auction must provide internet service to 40% of the locations in the areas they bid on within three years after they start receiving their subsidy, with another 20% in the fourth year and another 20% of locations serviced by the fifth year. The FCC says to expect new guidelines on the remaining locations in the tracts during the sixth year.

“We are hopeful, and everybody in the industry is hopeful, that the FCC will abide by those rules and make the penalities stiff if you don’t,” said Brock. “Our full intent is that we’re going to follow the rules. The census block groups that we got awarded, we’re going to build,” he added.

Yellowhammer News asked Brock what the total amount of new infrastructure Point is going to have to build as part of servicing the census blocks it won at auction.

Brock estimated that between “4,000 to 5,000” miles of fiber will be installed in East Alabama by Point Broadband as part of the project.

“It is going to be over a $100 million project,” he said of his company’s investment in East Alabama – meaning the FCC subsidy would only cover about half the cost.

Receiving support from the FCC’s RDOF initiative prevents Point Broadband from receiving other federal support for the same rural broadband projects, such as those offered by the Department of Agriculture.

However, Brock noted that Point might try and be a part of some state-level programs that have a similar focus on increasing internet access in rural areas.

Brock praised government relations professional Tripp Skipper for his help in guiding Point Broadband through the intricacies of the project’s governmental relations aspect.

Point Broadband is partnering with Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative on the creation of the fiber network. “They’re good folks,” said Brock, noting their territory covered much of the area Point purchased in the auction.

Point is providing its newly acquired rural customers with premium fiber-to-the-premises services that will offer gigabit-speed internet. The FCC reverse auction gave priority to companies offering better speeds.

Brock said construction should begin soon on the new internet infrastructure after the long-form certification process is complete, which he expects to be in the fall of 2021.

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

1 hour ago

Point Broadband to offer high-speed fiber internet on Alabama’s Lake Martin

Point Broadband announced plans to offer fiber-to-the-premises high-speed internet for select areas on Lake Martin in Alabama.

“In today’s digitally-driven world, fast and reliable fiber internet is crucial to keep everyone and everything connected,” said Point Broadband CEO Todd Holt. “Point Broadband is thrilled to offer residents and businesses in the Lake Martin area access to some of the best broadband technology available today.”

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The fiber broadband company based in West Point, Georgia, which operates in nine states, will provide up to 1 gigabit symmetrical broadband service with whole-home W-Fi, allowing numerous devices to run around the clock.

“With more people working, students learning and families entertaining all from their homes, we recognize the importance of ensuring your home has the right resources to meet your needs,” Holt said.

Lake Martin residents can sign up or express interest at point-broadband.com/lake-martin/.

Point Broadband is partnering with Alabama Power on the new initiative. The company will contract for a portion of Alabama Power’s fiber infrastructure to help support Point Broadband’s offering of high-speed internet on Lake Martin.

“The need for greater broadband accessibility for Alabamians to continue to learn, grow business and lead healthy lives is greater than ever before,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Alabama Power’s Southern Division. “We’re excited to partner with Point Broadband to be part of the solution. The advanced technology of our electric grid makes it smarter, more reliable and resilient, and can also help facilitate the expansion of broadband services.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Ivey fulfills request to send Alabama National Guardsmen to D.C. for security of Biden inauguration

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has authorized the sending of approximately 250 members of the Alabama National Guard to help secure the Washington, D.C. area ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

First reported Gray Television and confirmed to Yellowhammer News, the move was made in response to a request by the head of the National Guard, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson.

According to National Public Radio, which is based in Washington, D.C., around 20,000 members of the National Guard will be in the Capitol area to help keep the peace through the inauguration. They will come from nearly all states, per NPR’s reporting.

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The dramatically-heightened security comes in the wake of a group of President Donald Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6. The violence led to the death of five people including a member of the Capitol Police.

Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, told Yellowhammer News in a statement about the National Guard’s deployment, “At the request of the Chief of The National Guard Bureau, General Daniel R. Hokanson, the Alabama National Guard has activated approximately 250 Soldiers in support of the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C.”

The activation of the soldiers comes as the FBI has warned states that protesters in the vein of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol may demonstrate in their areas over the coming days.

Ivey said at a public appearance on Tuesday that she was aware of law enforcement monitoring the situation.

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

15 hours ago

SAIL awards nearly $1 million to summer learning programs in Alabama

Summer Adventure in Learning (SAIL), a joint project of six charitable organizations, announced Thursday that dozens of organizations in Alabama that provide summer learning opportunities to children will be receiving financial support.

Forty independent programs in the state will receive a total of $898,500.

SAIL cites research showing that students from low-income families frequently lose months of reading and math skills during the summer break. The organization sets out to prevent this learning loss among low-income students by funding summer learning programs that target those kids.

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Most SAIL-affiliated programs are in the Birmingham area, though it also has six programs to whom it gives funds in the Black belt and three large programs in the Huntsville area.

“We have always known the importance of intentionally academic summer programming, but it proved more critical than ever after schools closed in the spring of 2020,” said Elizabeth Dotts Fleming, the executive director of The Schools Foundation, in a release.

The Schools Foundation is SAIL’s chief partner in the Huntsville area.

SAIL does not require the summer learning programs it funds to follow a specific curriculum, allowing a large degree of flexibility among the programs it funds.

However, all programs taking SAIL funding consent to a test of its students at the beginning and end of its run so the program’s effectiveness can be assessed.

In a release, SAIL shared that “In the summer of 2020, SAIL supported 34 programs. 14 provided in-person programs, 17 virtual, and 3 offered an at-home curriculum. Due to COVID restrictions, enrollment was down from SAIL’s normal 2,500+ students to 1,250.”

“State law requires school systems to offer summer reading camps, but leaves the implementation to each district,” remarked Mitchie Neel, the executive director of the Blount County Education Foundation.

“We know from research that how you structure a summer learning program influences how much students will learn. Partnering with SAIL allows us to meet students where they are while nurturing the whole child and bringing them up to grade level,” Neel added.

A list of the programs receiving funding from SAIL in 2021 can be found here for the Birmingham area, here for the Black Belt and here for Huntsville.

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

16 hours ago

Four Bama underclassmen — Jones, Waddle, Surtain and Barmore — declare for NFL Draft

Four underclassman members of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s national championship-winning team will not return to Tuscaloosa next fall.

Quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and cornerback Patrick Surtain II announced on Thursday they will forego their remaining college eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL Draft.

The quartet made the announcement via a press conference broadcast by the university. All four are expected by national college football analysts to be taken in the first round of the draft.

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Jones, a Heisman finalist, is declaring for the NFL after his lone season under center for the Tide — a year in which he posted dominant numbers, including leading the NCAA in completion percentage. His 2020 performance pushed him from fringe consideration to a consensus first round pick.

Waddle was already expected to be a top first round pick entering the year, and even an injury that derailed much of his season has not changed the consensus thinking. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., in December, ranked Waddle as the eighth-most talented player in the 2021 draft.

Surtain and Barmore have been similarly been graded as likely pros for much of their time at Bama. Surtain’s father played several seasons in the NFL. Kiper ranks Surtain as the best CB and Barmore as the second-best defensive tackle in the 2021 draft class.

Senior wide receiver Devonta Smith and senior running Najee Harris have not yet made their draft status official — and pandemic rule changes grant them an additional season of eligibility — but their official entrance in the draft is considered a formality. Both are expected to go in the first round along with their four underclassmen teammates who declared on Thursday.

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

17 hours ago

PowerSouth’s Gary Smith elected as chairman of Business Council of Alabama

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) on Thursday announced the organization’s 2021 board of directors, including a new chairman of the board.

PowerSouth Energy Cooperative president and CEO Gary Smith has been elected to serve as chairman of BCA, succeeding John Mazyck. Smith most recently served as chairman of ProgressPAC, BCA’s political arm, and he previously has held several other leadership roles within BCA.

“I am honored to serve as BCA’s next chairman. It’s a privilege to be a part of this organization and the board serving the businesses of Alabama,” Smith said in a statement. “I am grateful to John for the countless contributions he made throughout his time as chairman. BCA has continued to succeed in part because of his leadership. I anticipate great things for the future of this organization.”

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Mazyck is a principal at Montgomery-based The Frazier Lanier Company.

“It has been an honor to serve as Chairman and to work with an exceptional Executive Committee, Board, and Staff. We have advanced the ball for business in Alabama in 2020, and we have led with strength,” Mazyck stated. “I anticipate continued success and progress under Gary’s leadership as BCA continues to work on behalf of the business community, ensuring a stronger, more prosperous Alabama.”

Katie Boyd Britt, BCA’s president and CEO, praised Mazyck’s tenure in a statement.

“BCA is immensely grateful for John Mazyck’s leadership and his many contributions to BCA throughout his time as chairman,” she said. “John has been instrumental in moving our organization forward, building a stronger business community, and furthering the mission of BCA to create an environment where all businesses can grow and flourish.”

Smith is a graduate of the University of North Alabama and of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. He currently serves on the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama board, University of North Alabama board, Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives board, Southern Independent Bank board and the South Alabama Regional Airport board, among others.

“Gary Smith has been a valuable partner of BCA for years and has contributed so much already through his involvement,” Britt commented. “His strong leadership has positively impacted BCA and ProgressPAC in innumerable ways, and I look forward to working alongside him as he continues to work on behalf of the Alabama business community.”

Overall, the BCA board of directors includes distinguished pro-jobs leaders from across the Yellowhammer State who are willing to donate their time and resources for the betterment of all Alabamians. View a list of the 2021 directors here.

“We again have gathered an incredible group of professionals to serve as our 2021 board of directors. Every member serves an important role and brings together diverse professional experience on issues important to Alabama business,” Britt concluded. “The board plays an instrumental part in BCA’s ability to achieve the goals of growing the state’s economy, creating jobs, and encouraging investment in Alabama. I am excited to work with and learn from them as we all navigate through the new year.”

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