For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.
Scofield: ‘Broadband is our infrastructure challenge of the 21st century’ — Crucial ‘to save some of the best areas of this state’
GUNTERSVILLE — Yellowhammer News on Thursday held the second event in its 2019 “News Shapers” series. Entitled “Connecting Alabama’s Rural Communities,” the forum regarding broadband expansion drew a great crowd and elicited insightful conversation from the four expert panelists: 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).
Tim Howe, Yellowhammer Multimedia co-owner and Yellowhammer News editor-in-chief, moderated the forum, which came days after the second round of grants was awarded under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund.
This fund was created through legislation sponsored by Scofield and signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey during the Alabama Legislature’s 2018 regular session. The first round of grants was awarded earlier this year. The legislature then passed another bill by Scofield updating the law during the 2019 regular session.
To kick the conversation off on Thursday, Howe noted Scofield’s successful efforts the past two years in passing his broadband expansion legislation, also pointing to HB 400 sponsored by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) and State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro).
Howe asked Scofield about this year’s update of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act and the feedback he heard prior to the 2019 regular session that led to him crafting SB 90.
“We passed the broadband expansion bill last year, and we knew that there would be some changes that needed to occur this year — some fine-tuning and some tweaking,” Scofield explained. “And we know that in the future, there will also need to be some fine-tuning as we look to make the program work better… SB 90 reflected some of those changes, and we heard that (the need for changes) from our providers.”
Scofield explained that it is not profitable in many rural areas for companies to install the necessary broadband infrastructure, which is why the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund is so important. The fund 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, grant awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project, meaning providers must still have significant “skin in the game” financially.
“At the end of the day, our providers are the ones who are going to be installing the infrastructure for the consumers to enjoy,” Scofield outlined. “So, it’s very important to listen to the providers. This whole thing began by listening to the providers. ‘What is it going to take to get you to expand in rural Alabama?’ And folks, it’s cost. It’s a business decision. The market size is just not there, so the cash flow is just more difficult.”
He likened modern government support of broadband expansion to rural electricity and water expansion of old.
“You’re looking out at Lake Guntersville,” Scofield told the crowd at Guntersville Town Hall, “and it’s a product of government being involved in infrastructure. In the 1930s, the government got involved in rural power. Our co-ops took advantage of that and delivered power to rural customers. And in the 1960s-70s, they expanded to rural water. Well, broadband is our infrastructure challenge of the 21st century.”
“Without our providers, and without government providing some incentive to bring their costs down, it simply wouldn’t occur,” he emphasized. “So, the changes that we’ve seen (through SB 90) are to make the job easier on these guys (the providers).”
‘We still live in a capitalist economy’
Asked to speak to the recommended changes from the provider side, Johnson stressed, “Good public policy has to be based on fact.”
“It’s really easy to blame people for why there’s not broadband in certain parts of the state,” he continued. “But we still live in a capitalist economy — for the time being — and it’s a business case. If it’s (broadband) not there, there’s a really good reason for it. What this legislation does, especially in connection with the federal legislation… what it does is give companies that want to step up to the plate the leverage it may take to swing the pendulum to where a business case can be built and you can serve areas where otherwise there’s no public policy support to build.”
Johnson said he personally thinks “the world of Clay Scofield, Steve Livingston and (House Majority Leader) Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville),” who were all in attendance.
“The neatest thing about this (2019 broadband expansion efforts) was you had the leadership in the legislature — and Representative Shedd certainly needs to be included [in that recognition] — they took the time to understand the issue,” he added. “It’s not a Democratic, it’s not a Republican issue. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s an issue that affects all rural Alabamians of every race, color, creed, sex and anything else you want to talk about.”
Of the legislative leaders, Johnson reiterated, “They took the time to understand the issue and ask, ‘What do we need to do to swing the pendulum?’ Quite frankly, I think we’ve got one of the more cohesive public policies in the United States [now]… so I think they’ve done an excellent job.”
Stackhouse affirmed just how important SB 90 and HB 400 were from the perspective of an electric utility provider serving a rural nine-county area in central Alabama.
“80 years ago in November, our [co-op’s] first electric customer was connected… and the area flourished because of getting electricity to an area where a lot said, ‘You can’t make money at that, there’s no use doing that,'” Stackhouse advised. “It was huge.”
Now, in modern times, Central Alabama Electric Cooperative’s board has created a subsidiary to handle communications services, like broadband.
“Communication is now the electricity, and without [the legislation], it just doesn’t happen,” Stackhouse said.
He praised Scofield for his leadership, adding of SB 90 and HB 400, “It has really helped us step up.”
“And we’re not building our [broadband efforts just] on grants, we’ve got a business model we believe we can make work,” Stackhouse continued. “But grants help a lot, though, especially when it’s sparsely populated areas that need it just as much.”
Without broadband expansion, ‘they’re going to die’
Following up on just how much many rural areas in the state really do need broadband access, Howe then recalled an op-ed that Scofield wrote and Yellowhammer News published during the 2019 regular session when Scofield stated the survival of rural Alabama depends on broadband expansion.
Howe asked Scofield to outline the various aspects of modern life that are affected by access to high-speed internet services in his district and others like it across Alabama.
“In about every way you can think of,” Scofield said. “Not just agriculture, but economic development — you’re not going to recruit a company with 21st century jobs to an area without a 21st century infrastructure. You’re not going to train a 21st century workforce without 21st century infrastructure.”
“Telemedicine is the future for our healthcare, which I believe is one of the things that’s going to help bring healthcare costs down for a lot of Americans,” he continued.
Scofield stated that this is especially true, “In rural areas where we see increased levels of diabetes and obesity and a lot of ailments that seem to go up, because the healthcare isn’t easily accessible.”
“So, the thought that a person can connect to MD Anderson for a cancer screening in Greene County, and never leave Greene County, can save that person’s life,” he explained. “It’s a game-changer for a lot of people, and I think that a lot of folks just don’t realize that 830,000 or 840,000 Alabamians still don’t have [broadband] access.”
He then reaffirmed just how crucial these broadband expansion efforts are.
“It’s critical that we get this infrastructure out, that we get people hooked up in our rural areas because they’re going to die — they’re going to be left behind, they’re being left behind right now,” Scofield emphasized. “So, I think the quicker that we do that, the quicker we’re going to save some of the best areas of this state.”
@ALConservative says rural broadband is a “game-changer” for the future of rural Alabama’s healthcare and business infrastructure. He was the sponsor of grant legislation discussed in tonight’s @yhn panel in Guntersville. #alpolitics #ruralbroadband pic.twitter.com/D9KFitoqXl
— Southern Strategy AL (@SoStrategyAL) July 18, 2019
‘This is a legacy’
Later in the forum, Scofield did also caution that broadband expansion to all Alabamians logistically cannot and will not happen instantaneously.
However, success will be achieved only when “we get to a point where, like power … if you want high-speed internet [wherever you live] in the state, you can connect to it,” Scofield believes.
“I think that’s where we’ve got to get,” he said. “And that’s not going to happen overnight… Everyone’s got to be patient. Lake Guntersville didn’t fill up in a day, they didn’t build the dam in a day and they didn’t give power to rural Autauga County in a day — or even here. It’s going to take a long time to build this infrastructure out, but I believe that we are on the right track.”
Scofield wrapped up the forum by lauding the integral support and teamwork of some of his fellow legislators who were in attendance, including Livingston, Ledbetter and State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre), along with Shedd, who was unavailable to make the event.
“I’m really proud of what we came out with,” Scofield said of SB 90 as signed into law. “And I think that whether you’re an elected official or not, if you had something to do with this, I think that this is a legacy that we’re going to be able to leave this state. It’s going to benefit generations. And that’s why I do what I do, and I know that’s why they (the legislators in attendance) do what they do. I think it’s going to be something that’s going to move this state forward in ways that we can’t even envision today.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn
On this day in Alabama history: Camp McClellan was established in east Alabama
July 18, 1917
Shortly after the United States entered World War I, the War Department established Camp McClellan as a rapid mobilization base and permanent National Guard facility. More than 27,000 men were training at the east Alabama base by the end of 1917. Camp McClellan was originally named in honor of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, and was renamed Fort McClellan in 1929. During World War II, nearly 500,000 military personnel trained there. After being put in custodial status following the war, it was reactivated during the Korean War and Cold War era. The focus shifted to chemical weapons training during and after the Vietnam War. The fort survived one round of military base closings during the 1990s, but it was finally shut down in 1999. The site has shifted to private use as well as for Alabama National Guard training.
Ainsworth in Huntsville: Alabama is ‘the aerospace capital of the world’
Wednesday, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) presented Dr. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. with the 2019 Thomas R. Hobson Distinguished Aerospace Service Award for a lifetime of exemplary achievement in the aerospace field.
The award presentation came during the Aerospace States Association’s annual dinner, which was held in Huntsville at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
Ainsworth is currently chair of the association, which is a national nonpartisan group composed of lieutenant governors, gubernatorial-appointed delegates and associate members from aerospace organizations and academia.
In remarks shared with Yellowhammer News, Ainsworth honored Alabama’s space legacy, recognizing Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary this week.
“Throughout each of the past six decades, Alabama and the Marshall Space Flight Center have created the engines that rocketed man into the heavens,” he said. “It’s here that Dr. Wernher Von Braun and his committed team of scientists and engineers birthed the Saturn V rocket that took men to the Moon and allowed them to place a U.S. flag on the lunar surface.”
“For those reasons, it’s altogether appropriate that we gather in this state and this city for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission,” he continued. “We are fortunate to have Buzz Aldrin, an original moonwalker and living American legend, join us during this conference.”
As chair of the Aerospace States Association, it’s my honor to host the annual meeting in Huntsville and present the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Buzz Aldrin. Honoring him during the 50th anniversary of the legendary Apollo 11 mission made the moment even more special. pic.twitter.com/PFN2rQsfMU
— Will Ainsworth (@willainsworthAL) July 18, 2019
The conference is set to last through the rest of the week, with attendees working on publicly policy related to the aerospace industry and advocating for their home states.
“The work we do here this week will bring the stars and planets closer to the earth and ensure that future generations are privy to the same dreams and inspirations that the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, and Space Station eras provid-ed to generations prior,” Ainsworth told the crowd.
“I was just talking with some industry leaders who are here and they are talking about expanding the existing industry,” he the lieutenant governor said. “I think a lot of new industries are looking here. And the reason why is we are the aerospace capital of the world. I think when you look at our tax environment, with the workforce we are training, Alabama is open for business in aerospace, no doubt.”
“Today I had an opportunity to tour ULA where they are building rockets that will literally send our next astronauts to the Moon, and when you look at just the president’s commitment to going back to the Moon, and when you look at potentially the future of going to Mars, it’s an exciting and energetic time in the aerospace industry right now,” Ainsworth advised.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn.
Apollo 11 is now problematic?
Right now, Alabama, along with the rest of America, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. A mission that culminated in man walking on the moon and fulfilled the vision put out by President John F. Kennedy that it would be done before the end of the 1970s.
In normal times, this would be a time for celebration and unity. Americans from all sectors and political parties would drop their swords and join together to consume media of trying times and magnificent accomplishments.
Unfortunately, this is Trump’s America and because of that, the overarching theme that must pulse through every aspect of American culture, which is dominated by the media and their Democrats, is the simple undeniable and universal belief that America sucks.
It’s racist, stupid, sexist, stupid, homophobic, stupid, Islamaphobic, stupid and stupid.
Our soccer team believes it. Our celebrities believe it. Our politicians believe it.
And the news media is going to feed it to us non-stop.
For example, Werhner Von Braun was a Nazi, therefore his accomplishments on this matter are unworthy.
Apollo 11 got off the ground, in no small part, thanks to Wernher von Braun, a brilliant German-American rocket engineer who was laid to rest in Alexandria, Virginia.https://t.co/OY6r0sMxOV
— WTOP (@WTOP) July 16, 2019
CORRECTION: We have updated this story to explicitly state that Wernher von Braun was a Nazi.
— WTOP (@WTOP) July 16, 2019
After careful consideration, WTOP has decided to remove the article from our website. This story did not meet WTOP’s standards and should not have appeared on any of our platforms.
— WTOP (@WTOP) July 16, 2019
Another example: The space program had too many men, therefore it was problematic.
The culture that put men on the moon was intense, fun, family-unfriendly, and mostly white and male https://t.co/x5vQBuU4IN
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 16, 2019
The Apollo program was designed by men, for men. If we do not acknowledge the gender bias of the early space program, it becomes difficult to move past it. https://t.co/Mt7rVLgAaf
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 17, 2019
Another argument is Soviet Russia had more firsts (or something), so America should have focused less on accomplishing the mission and more on diversity.
America may have put the first man on the moon, but the Soviet Union sent the first woman, the first Asian man, and the first black man into orbit — all years before the U.S. would follow suit https://t.co/DrTZYxvbD7
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 18, 2019
Who is this for? What American wanted this? Who is the consumer for this news?
Inhabitants of American newsrooms and their woke superfans online.
This was not one outlet, one reporter, one editor — it is across the board.
These are major American media outlets and they cannot resist the urge to scold their fellow Americans for, in this case, the perceived sins of the past.
This is why people hate the media as a whole.
They aren’t offended, they aren’t going to write a letter, they aren’t going to demand someone be fired.
Your average American is sick of this nonsense. They roll their eyes and go on about their business.
This is why people don’t trust them. This is why they are called things like the “enemy of the people” and people applaud it.
This is how you got Trump.
President Donald Trump is the embodiment of the people who are sick of this crap.
And every time the people who work in these newsrooms and under these “legendary” banners write these articles try to scold Americans for some clearly arbitrary offense of the day, or the past, they might as well drop a dollar into Trump’s reelection campaign.
Doug Jones’ approval rating continues to fall
Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) continues to lose popularity as 2020 draws nearer.
Morning Consult on Thursday released its polling numbers for the second quarter of 2019, showing Jones’ net approval rating 20 points lower than the first quarter of 2018 when he entered the U.S. Senate.
The polling was conducted from April 1 through June 30 and measured registered voters. The results showed 39% of respondents approved of Jones’ job performance, while 37% disapproved and 24% were undecided. The margin of error was 1%.
In contrast, Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) net approval rating is 15 points higher than Jones’, with 46% approving and only 29% disapproving of Alabama’s venerable senior senator.
Jones’ net approval rating has dropped three points since the beginning of the year.
Another poll conducted in April went deeper than Morning Consult’s approval rating surveys, showing that Jones faces nearly insurmountable demographic barriers to reelection.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn.