3 weeks ago

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative ramps up broadband push — ‘Alabama’s best days are ahead of us’

PRATTVILLE — High-speed broadband access is on the way to Alabamians in Central Alabama Electric Cooperative’s (CAEC) primarily rural 5,000 square-mile service territory.

At a packed announcement event on Friday, the cooperative explained that it has formed a wholly owned subsidiary, named “Central Access,” to construct a 400-mile fiber optic ring that will connect CAEC’s 24 electric substations and six offices.

This is Phase 1 of a plan approved by CAEC’s board of trustees last year to expand broadband access to their customers.

Construction for this initial phase will begin on Monday and is estimated to take approximately 15 months to complete. Central Access’ first activations are expected by January 2020.

After Phase 1 is proven to be financially viable for the company, the next phase can begin. This would entail additional infrastructure being built beyond the 400-mile core so Central Access could reach even more people with broadband access.

Speeds are expected to exceed the FCC definition of broadband, starting with 200 Mbps up and down (no data caps) and up to 1Gbps. Additional options will be made available to business customers.

Alabamians in CAEC’s service area can click here to see if they fall into Phase 1 or to pre-register for service.

At the Friday event, CAEC President and CEO Tom Stackhouse and Central Access Executive Vice President Chris Montgomery were joined by members of the community and leaders in state government, including Governor Kay Ivey, to celebrate the start of Phase 1.

However, Stackhouse emphasized that while well worth it, the process would not unfold overnight.

After reiterating how “critical” expanding broadband access to rural Alabamians currently is, much like connecting them to electricity was last century, Stackhouse said, “Just like [how long] that electric system took to build, this will not be done quickly.”

“There’s not a magic wand, I can’t wave the fiber over [the service territory] and everybody be connected,” he continued. “But we are going to get started. And our goal is to get to that very end person that’s on our (power) lines. That is our goal. And our goal is not to rest until we get there … every day we’re going to be closer than we were.”

During her remarks, Ivey identified two bills she signed this past regular session as being key to rural broadband expansion efforts like Central Access: SB 90 by State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and HB 400 by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview).

“What an exciting day this is for Central Access, for rural counties and the entire state of Alabama,” the governor said. “Y’all, broadband is just essential for our students’ education, for our economy, for recruiting business and industry, for improving our healthcare and for the overall, general quality of life of our people.”

Reaffirming broadband as a modern “necessity,” she noted that access is a widespread problem throughout the state that many take for granted.

“Currently, there are some 840,000 Alabamians without access to high-speed internet,” Ivey advised.

She added that efforts like Central Access will greatly help bring that number down.

“Y’all, we have many reasons to celebrate today,” Ivey stressed, calling the start of Central Access’ fiber optic installation “a momentous occasion.”

“Let’s just remember that Alabama’s best days are ahead of us,” the governor concluded.

‘Extremely important’

Additionally, State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) and State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) were both on hand for the announcement.

Chambliss hailed Ivey’s vision on issues like rural broadband, saying she is governing with a focus on a better future for all Alabamians.

A local official who is looking to join Chambliss and Oliver in the state legislature was also in attendance.

Autauga County Commissioner Van Smith, who is a member of the CAEC board of directors and a Republican candidate in the House District 42 special primary election, spoke with Yellowhammer News after the event.

Smith said that as a career educator and farmer, he understands the vital need for rural broadband in HD 42, CAEC’s service territory and rural areas like them all around the state.

“I see a lot of our rural areas losing population,” he explained. “And, in an effort to keep population, we really want to have all the infrastructure that people need … those infrastructure needs are extremely important — broadband being one of the major ones.”

“When young people want to be able to do their homework — and we talk about students having access to i-Pads instead of books, that’s a great idea but without broadband… they can’t do that,” Smith outlined. “The other thing is, too, there’s a growing population of our people who want to work from home. They can’t do that without adequate up and down speed. Also, our rural healthcare will benefit from this, as well.”

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

9 mins ago

2019 Yellowhammer ‘News Shapers’ series continues with second rural broadband installment

Join the Yellowhammer News team Tuesday, September 24 for a “Yellowhammer News Shapers” event in Dothan.

Entitled, “Connecting Alabama’s rural communities,” the event is Yellowhammer’s second on rural broadband this year. This latest installment will focus on building partnerships and community awareness.

The event will feature a networking reception followed by a live forum on expanding broadband access and technology across the Yellowhammer State.

Confirmed forum panelists include State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva); Brad Kimbro, CEO of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative; Jimmy Copeland, director of special projects for Troy Cablevision, Inc.; Dr. Carmen Lewis, associate dean of Troy University’s Sorrell College; and Sean Strickler, vice president public affairs of the Alabama Rural Electric Association.  

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Areas of focus will include exploring partnerships that work, implementation obstacles and best practices, community awareness and future needs and next steps for program advancement.

The event will be held in Everett Hall on Troy University’s Dothan campus: 502 University Drive, Dothan, AL 36303.

The reception will begin at 5:00 p.m., with the moderated forum to follow at 5:20 p.m.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Please contact courtney@yellowhammernews.com for more information.

The legislative edition of Yellowhammer News Shapers kicked off 2019’s series and was followed by the rural broadband edition on July 18 in Guntersville, “Prepare for Launch” in Huntsville on July 31 and “West Alabama and the coal industry” on August 8 in Jasper.

More Yellowhammer News Shapers events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

42 mins ago

Limestone County sheriff’s attorney blasts ‘draconian’ ethics act after indictment

After it was announced on Thursday that longtime Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony “Mike” Blakely has been indicted on 13 state ethics counts, separate press conferences featuring his personal attorneys and the spokesperson for the sheriff’s department pumped the breaks on those looking to equate Blakely merely being charged with actually being guilty.

First, Mark McDaniel, the lead attorney for Blakely’s defense, emphasized that the sheriff would be entering in a plea of “not guilty” on all counts and looks forward to trying the case in a court of his peers.

WHNT carried McDaniel’s comments to the media, in which he emphasized that a large part of the defense will be challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s ethics statute.

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“Virtually anything you do as a public servant now under that act is illegal, so we’ll be contesting the constitutionality of the ethics act also,” McDaniel said.

He called the ethics act “draconian” and added he will file a motion asking the court to strike it down.

Asked what about the ethics act they will be challenging, McDaniel responded, “A lot of things.”

McDaniel specified that one of those things will be how overly “broad” the statute is.

“You don’t even know what you’ve done [wrong],” he added, saying that the public should stay tuned to see their motions “attacking” the ethics act’s issues.

In a press conference shortly afterwards, Limestone County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Stephen Young stressed that Blakely continues to serve as the sheriff and that the department’s operations will not be affected by the ongoing legal situation.

Young also cautioned people about utilizing indictments as indicators of guilt.

“A grand jury indictment is not a conviction,” Young advised. “In fact, it’s the process typically used when an agency cannot obtain enough probable cause to obtain its own warrant. As Sheriff Blakely once told me, ‘You can indict a ham sandwich.’”

Watch:

Blakely served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Alabama State Trooper before becoming the county sheriff in 1983. He has also served as an officer in the Alabama National Guard.

McDaniel said it is an “honor” to represent the sheriff and that he is “proud” to defend Blakely against the charges.

The attorney noted that Blakely “absolutely” intended to continue serving. The sheriff was back at work immediately after posting bond on Thursday.

A Democrat, Blakely is the longest-serving sheriff in state history. He won the statewide “Bobby Timmons Sheriff of the Year Award” as recently as 2017.

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

3 hours ago

Alabama postpones 50th anniversary tour over singer’s health

Country band Alabama says it is postponing the remainder of its 50th anniversary tour as lead singer Randy Owen battles health complications.

The group announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Owen is suffering from migraines and vertigo, and doctors say he needs more time to recover.

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The news comes after a string of already-canceled shows due to the singer’s health.

Bass player and vocalist Teddy Gentry wrote in a statement that though he and the rest of the band are disappointed, Owen’s recovery is the priority.

The 50-city tour was scheduled through Nov. 23, where it would have ended in Salisbury, Maryland.

Rescheduled dates will be released in the coming weeks.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.

4 hours ago

Limestone County sheriff indicted, arrested on 13 financial theft, ethics charges

Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday announced that Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony Blakely has been indicted and arrested on several ethics charges.

Blakely, 68, surrendered to authorities and was later released on a $49,000 bond, according to the attorney general’s office.

The indictment includes 13 charges that cover a range of conduct over multiple years.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.”

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Specifically, the first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account that total $11,000.

Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from his illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Count 11 charges Blakely with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business.

Finally, counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case,” Marshall added. “Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at reportcorruption@ago.state.al.us.”

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division.

“While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities—their friends and neighbors—of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. commented.

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you,” he advised. “If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption.”

Blakely, as is the case with all indictments, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.

Blakely’s attorneys held a press conference emphasizing that he will plead not guilty to all counts, per WHNT.

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