6 months ago

Broadband mapping effort to ramp up in Alabama — ‘Absolutely essential’

GUNTERSVILLE — During Yellowhammer News’ “Connecting Alabama’s Rural Communities” News Shapers forum regarding broadband expansion on Thursday, the panel of four experts from industry and government dove deep into the weeds on the important issue.

State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Arab), Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative’s Fred Johnson, Central Alabama Electric Cooperative’s Tom Stackhouse and Maureen Neighbors of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) were asked questions from moderator Tim Howe of Yellowhammer Multimedia over a 45-minute span at Guntersville Town Hall.

Approximately a third of the way through the forum, Howe turned the conversation to broadband mapping, which attempts to pinpoint which areas have access and which do not.

This practice is especially important for purposes of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, which provides state grants for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less.

Under the law, eligibility is also dependent on whether respective areas are already “served” (have broadband coverage that meets certain a threshold) or not. Hence, accurate mapping is crucial to ensure grants are going to the right places.

As ADECA is responsible for administering the grants, Howe asked Neighbors what role the department plays in the mapping process.

With the latest update to the state of Alabama’s broadband map over her shoulder, Neighbors explained that mapping is still “a tricky issue.” She also outlined how ADECA will attempt to address the problem.

(Orange represent ‘unserved’ areas, while the grey/brown spots represent served areas with service coverage already at or above 25/3. Red represents projects already funded through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, while black signifies areas that will be required by federal law to be covered within five years.)

“We are getting ready to issue an RFP,” Neighbors advised. “It will be, I believe, it will be posted on Monday for broadband consulting that will include planning and mapping for the state of Alabama.”

You can view the RFP, which was issued first thing on Monday, here.

Continuing her thoughts on Thursday, Neighbors told the crowd that current mapping is essentially based off of providers’ self-reporting alone.

“No one’s required to tell us anything and we can’t make them tell us,” she lamented.

“So, the map is only as accurate as the information that we receive,” Neighbors continued to explain. “The maps that we have now are based on FCC data — that’s a self-reporting tool that providers use. The FCC and the providers all know it’s not terribly accurate. It’s really all we have right now to tell us where there are clusters of service, but it doesn’t do a good job of telling us where there isn’t service. So, that’s something we hope to be able to address with a consultant, whoever it is. We’ll be looking for folks who have worked in other states and have helped them with their mapping weaknesses. Because it is a difficult issue, and it’s hard to get the data — and it’s hard to have something that’s accurate. And without the data, it’s hard to target the funds to those areas that are in most need of broadband service.”

Following up, Johnson did not mince words on mapping from a provider perspective. He has had extensive experience with the issue on the state level and nationally, with experts across the United States widely respecting his industry leadership.

Johnson told the crowd in Guntersville that mapping is “absolutely critical” to broadband providers.

“And it’s an absolute disaster,” he emphasized, commenting on the current state of mapping.

Howe asked Johnson how that situation is to improve.

“Well, pray would be a good place to start,” Johnson joked.

“The challenge with the mapping process is that nationwide under the FCC auspices, all providers are supposed to provide their service characteristics across the geography of the nation,” he said.

Johnson then explained that the “challenge process,” or how alleged errors in a provider’s self-reporting are adjudicated, is weak, meaning errors often go uncorrected.

“And in defense of some of the reporting, you have to understand that in some cases, a local telephone company, actually in many cases, may have changed hands 10 or 15 times since the map of its service territory was perfected,” he outlined. “So, the current owner has no data to support them, no way to really accurately enter things.”

He credited FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for a currently open notice for proposed federal rule-making that Johnson believes will be a step in the right direction. However, Johnson said that the federal government still has a long way to go, which makes the current ADECA effort that much more important.

“But until we get down to a point where all providers are required to essentially tell you the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates of every location they serve and the top of service provided there, and that is subject to a reasonable challenge process so that if somebody is playing fast and loose with the rules — which will happen, has and will continue to happen — then what Maureen (Neighbors) and what ADECA is doing to address the issue on a more statewide level is absolutely essential,” he advised. “Because this legislation (by Scofield) was well-written to make sure that it (the funding) went to where it needed to go.”

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

15 mins ago

Doug Jones to host second annual HBCU summit at Miles College

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is inviting Alabamians to his second annual HBCU summit. The 2020 version of the summit will be at Miles College in Fairfield on February 14.

The event will have a student career and employment opportunities from across Alabama in addition to two panels moderated by Alabama’s junior senator.

Doug Jones has made championing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) one of the cornerstones of his time in the U.S. Senate.

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In 2019, Jones took to the Senate floor to say, “HBCUs are the leading educators for African American PhDs in science and in engineering. They are foundational to building generational wealth in communities that have long faced headwinds in doing so. They are doing amazing work. ”

Alabama is home to 14 HBCUs. Jones helped guarantee the continuance of their federal funds by co-sponsoring the FUTURE act with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). The bill was signed in to law by President Donald Trump in December 2019.

The effort received praise from the leaders of Alabama’s HBCUs, many of whom will be joining Jones for the two panels during his summit.

The two panels, as follows:

Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar
Dr. Patricia Sims, President, Drake State Community College
Dr. Cynthia Warrick, President, Stillman College
Dr. Martha Lavender, President, Gadsden State Community College
Ms. Bobbie Knight, Interim President, Miles College
Ms. Anita Archie, Interim President, Trenholm State Community College
Dr. Shirley Friar, Chief of Staff, Tuskegee University
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses
featuring student representatives:
Miss Keila Michelle Lawrence, Miles College
Mr. Jacobi Gray, Alabama A&M University
Miss Arin Massey, Shelton State Community College
Mr. Amani Myers, Talladega College
Mr. Dakus Sankey, Jr., Trenholm State Community College
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Those interested in attending the summit can go here.

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

Birmingham marketing firm tapped for Super Bowl ad

Birmingham-headquartered marketing firm Big Communications has made a Super Bowl ad promoting the Fox broadcast of the 2020 Daytona 500.

The firm was tasked with making the ad by Fox Sports’ marketing team. When the ad airs on Sunday, it will be the first time in Big’s 25-year history that one of their ads will broadcast during the Super Bowl, which is the advertising industry’s biggest event of the year. Recent Super Bowls have averaged around 100 million American television viewers.

Blake Danforth, vice president of marketing for Fox Sports, credits Big’s award-winning work on Valvoline’s Never Idle campaign with piquing his interest in the firm.

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In a statement, Danforth said, “Big’s creative team had a genuine understanding of exactly what makes NASCAR fans love the sport with such an unrelenting, unrivaled intensity.”

“Promoting something as huge as the Great American Race on the biggest stage in all of advertising — that’s kind of a big deal,” commented Ford Wiles, Big partner and chief creative officer.

“This is the kind of moment that we live for — putting Alabama’s talent on display for the world to see,” Wiles concluded.

You can view Big’s Super Bowl ad here.

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

2 hours ago

Monument to gold star families will be added to Huntsville’s Veterans Memorial

The Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial, a park on the north side of Huntsville’s downtown area, will be adding a monument to gold star families in 2020.

Gold Star families are those who have lost a member during service in the United States Armed Forces.

The monument is the final planned addition to the veterans memorial, a project that was first dedicated on 11/11/2011. Its origin dates back to 2000 when a half-sized replica of the Vietnam memorial was temporarily displayed in Huntsville. Some residents wanted something more permanent.

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“The Veterans Memorial has been erected not to commemorate the glory of battle or triumph of victory, but to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and to pay homage to those heroes we have lost,” said Brigadier General (Retired) Bob Drolet, chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

The monument to the gold star families is designed and aided by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a foundation that has helped install similar monuments across the United States. To date, the group has placed 59 monuments across 45 states.

An identical monument was recently announced for installation in Mobile.

The primary sponsors of the Huntsville installation are Mike and Christine Wicks.

The Gold Star Family Memorial to be installed in Huntsville will be the first of its kind in Alabama.

The four panels on the back of the monument will read, “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice.”

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

3 hours ago

Bruce Pearl praises religious freedom in Alabama — ‘I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith’

Speaking to members of the media Monday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Auburn University head basketball coach Bruce Pearl lauded the religious freedom he enjoys living in the state of Alabama. He also called for unity and spoke strongly against anti-Semitism.

Pearl last spring became the fourth Jewish head coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four. He was the first president of the Jewish Coaches Association.

“Today has always been a difficult day for me as it Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the coach said on Monday in the opening statement of his press availability.

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“I was born in 1960, 15 years after we opened up the gates in Auschwitz and discovered the atrocities,” he continued. “We vow to never let that happen again to anyone. Anti-Semitism is a terrible thing. As a Jewish man, I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve seen its ugly face many times.”

Pearl explained, “That’s why I’m so blessed to live in this country where there is great religious freedom. I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith.”

“The great challenge for me has always been that we are brothers. We are all brothers. We are all sisters. We are all related,” he outlined. “Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. That makes us brothers because we have the same father – Abraham the father of many nations. Jesus was born a Jew and he died a Jew. That makes me brothers with my Christian brothers. If we can focus on that, whether you agree with it or not, that’s not my point. The point is we have a lot more in common than we have apart. We should celebrate those. We should never tolerate racism or something like anti-Semitism. What I would ask you all to remember is: never again.”

RELATED: Bruce Pearl slams AOC for ‘concentration camps’ tweets: ‘Attempt to rewrite the Holocaust’

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

3 hours ago

Ivey previews 2020 State of the State — ‘Challenges to address’

MONTGOMERY — Speaking at a gathering of the Alabama Council of Association Executives at Montgomery City Hall on Tuesday morning, Governor Kay Ivey gave a glimpse of her top priorities heading into the 2020 state legislative session.

The session gavels in at noon this coming Tuesday, February 4 — seven days from Ivey’s remarks. Her 2020 State of the State Address will follow the start of the session that evening, before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Ivey took to the podium Tuesday morning to an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“Already, 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for our state and our people,” the governor said.

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While noting the “great things” going on with the Yellowhammer State’s record-breaking economy, Ivey added, “But y’all, we do have some work to do and some challenges to address.”

She urged everyone to tune into her State of the State Address next week for more specifics while broadly underlining some of the “challenges” she will discuss in that speech and tackle this year.

The governor listed “the upcoming Census, our prison concerns, healthcare, mental healthcare and education reform” as the top 2020 issues.

“2020 will be a make or break year regarding our Census. … I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a full, accurate count in the 2020 Census,” Ivey stressed. “These numbers directly impact our representation in the United States House of Representatives and directly impact billions — with a ‘b’ — of dollars that come to our state, including funds for community programs, healthcare, education and job opportunities.”

“Ten years ago when we had the [last] Census, an estimated one million children went uncounted [in Alabama],” she continued. “Folks, we’ve got to close this gap and be sure that every person who’s living and breathing in Alabama completes a Census form and returns it — parents do it for their children. This is a must.”

Transitioning to her next priority, Ivey lamented, “Another large issue that has gone unaddressed in our state for decades is our heinous prison conditions.”

She acknowledged the state’s prison problems as “multifaceted and longstanding.”

In turn, Ivey said, a “multifaceted solution” will be needed.

“Y’all, this is an Alabama problem, and we’re going to have an Alabama solution for it,” the governor added. “It’s absolutely imperative we in the state of Alabama solve our prison problems. If we don’t, the Department of Justice will come in, take over, control the administration, control our funds … so failure is not an option.”

Ivey subsequently urged all Alabamians to vote “yes” on statewide Amendment One on March 3. She referred to this as the type of “bold action” needed to improve the state’s public education system.

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