7 months ago

Every citizen in Alabama deserves high-speed broadband

Alabama’s economy is booming with record low unemployment, wages on the rise and new industries continuing to choose our state to expand their businesses. However, we are lagging in providing critical broadband infrastructure to all our citizens. For too long, the expansion of fast, reliable internet service has been concentrated in larger cities while rural residents have no internet service or they are forced to pay for substandard access to today’s worldwide networked economy.

No one can dispute that our state is far behind the curve in providing rural broadband access. This shortcoming not only hurts those who live outside our cities, but it is detrimental to the overarching success of our economy. It is not fair that small business owners, farmers, schoolchildren and their parents cannot participate in our 21st century world on the same playing field as those living in urban areas.

Many of us cannot imagine being unable to grab our smartphone to check email, to find the cheapest gas station or to answer that trivia question posed on the radio. Completing those tasks online are a natural part of modern life, as commonplace as setting an alarm clock – which, by the way, we do via phone now too. Think about how reliant schoolchildren are on the internet, both in class and at home. While some may long for the “good old days,” it’s fairly certain that parents of schoolchildren are thankful that homework research can be done in the family room instead of downtown at the public library.

For too many Alabamians, quick and reliable access to the internet is not available and parents worry that their children are being left behind. That’s why the rapidly growing Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition was created, which is comprised of a diverse membership of organizations representing the business community, education, agriculture, healthcare and economic development. Groups like the Business Council of Alabama, ALFA Farmers Federation, the Economic Development Association of Alabama, as well as organizations representing K-12 and post-secondary, along with the Alabama Hospital Association and many others have joined in support of expanding rural broadband in our state.

Entrepreneurs don’t just live in big-city lofts or in wealthy suburbs, either. How many ideas are being squashed before they get a chance to mature and blossom into the next big thing because of inferior internet service? How many people are being denied access to medical breakthroughs in areas such as telemedicine because of pathetic connectivity?

Expanding high-speed broadband internet access to rural areas of Alabama is critical to the state’s economic viability. Our No. 1 industry – agriculture – would benefit immensely from reliable, fast internet service. Today’s farmers don’t rely (exclusively, anyway) on the Almanac. Weather reports in real time are often critical. Up-to-date crop and livestock prices, information on financial management, as well as GPS technologies that help drive our tractors and operate chicken houses allow farmers to survive in their razor-thin profit margin business through internet connectivity.

These problems do not have to continue in Alabama. We have the chance to provide broadband access to every corner of the state. Currently, the Alabama Legislature has the chance to open new opportunities to citizens forced to do without broadband in House Bill 400, being put forward by my colleagues in our State House. This proposed law – introduced by Reps. Randall Shedd and Nathaniel Ledbetter – will allow electric providers to install, operate and maintain broadband systems. Electric providers could offer broadband services directly or through an affiliate. They could allow a third party to provide broadband using the electric provider’s easements. The bill would not allow an electric provider to require residents to purchase broadband services as a condition of electricity service.

A companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 90, expands the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, providing grants for projects that will increase broadband across the state. This bill also seeks to encourage private investment in unserved areas and certain rural parts of Alabama. Senate Bill 90 has widespread support in the Alabama Senate, with myself and the bill’s sponsor Senator Clay Scofield we are joined by our co-sponsors: Cam Ward, Greg Reed, Gerald Allen, Steve Livingston, Andrew Jones, Tom Whatley, Randy Price, Jimmy Holley, J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner, Jack Williams, David Sessions, Donnie Chesteen, William “Billy” Beasley, Greg Albritton, Clyde Chambliss, Rodger Smitherman and Bobby Singleton.

Electric providers in Alabama strive to give their customers reliable, affordable power. House Bill 400 and Senate Bill 90 will allow them to do the same with high-speed broadband access. Please consider asking your state legislators to support providing rural broadband so all Alabamians have access to fast, reliable internet services. We believe this is the right thing to do.

Sen. Del Marsh is President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. He represents District 12, including Calhoun and Talladega counties. Marsh was elected to the Senate in 1998 and was reelected for a fifth term in 2014. He was first elected President Pro Tempore in 2010.

55 mins ago

Watch: Alabamians line up with American flags to welcome slain Naval ensign home

As seen in a video posted on Twitter, people lined the streets of Enterprise on Friday to welcome home Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson.

Watson, a 23-year-old Coffee County native who also spent many of his formative years in Blount County, was killed in last week’s shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The hero’s body arrived at Dothan Regional Airport on Friday and then a procession took him to Searcy Funeral Home in Enterprise.

Considering Fort Rucker’s presence, the area has a high percentage of military families, making Watson’s murder that much harder on the Wiregrass community. People lined the procession route with American flags, honoring his service, sacrifice and life.

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A public memorial service for Watson will take place at the Enterprise High School Performing Arts Center at 11:00 a.m. next Saturday, December 21.

Burial will be the following day at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. Governor Kay Ivey has ordered flags to half-staff on that day of internment: Sunday, December 22.

RELATED: How the hometown of a NAS Pensacola shooting hero is paying tribute to one of their own

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

1 hour ago

‘God loves you. Jesus paid the price’: Secret Santa pays off all layaways at Alabama Walmart

Christmas came a little early for several shoppers with layaway purchases at the Walmart in Anniston.

As reported first by ABC 33/40, an anonymous Alabama man came into the store recently and paid off the entire layaway balance at the time. The total value of the items he paid off was reportedly $65,000.

All the Secret Santa requested in return?

That each customer with a layaway item he paid off received a note, each with just the same seven words:

“God loves you. Jesus paid the price.”

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While the man’s tremendous act of generosity was greatly appreciated by customers ABC 33/40 interviewed, that seven-word message seemed to touch people powerfully in and of itself as well.

“That really topped it off,” Kandy Ward explained. “I really loved the message that he put out there and I think that’s what he wanted to do.”

Another shopper, Hannah Haynes, agreed.

“Everyday I wish I could thank the anonymous person for being so obedient (in his faith),” she said.

Haynes added that she stuck the note on her refrigerator and plans to keep it there, letting it serve as a motivator.

“Everyday I’m gonna wake up like, ‘How can I bless someone?'” Haynes remarked. “How can I show someone that type of love?”

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

3 hours ago

Byrne introduces bill allowing cartels to be treated as terrorist organizations under federal law

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) is leading the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives to be able to officially treat international drug cartels as terrorist organizations under federal law, something that President Donald Trump has recently expressed as a priority of his.

Byrne announced on Friday that he, along with Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI), has introduced the Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act.

This legislation would create a new federal designation, “Significant Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs),” which has more stringent sanctions than the existing transnational criminal organization designation. The penalties for Significant TCOs would mirror many of the penalties for entities currently designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), including sanctions on organization members and their families, travel restrictions and increased penalties for American citizens who grant them material assistance.

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In a statement, Byrne said, “We should not have to tolerate transnational criminal organizations exporting drugs and violence into our country.”

“This bill will enhance our ability to come after these groups and keep our communities and citizens safe at home and abroad. Congress should rally behind this effort and show these groups that there are severe consequences for their actions,” he advised.

This comes after nine dual U.S.-Mexico citizens were viciously slain by cartel members in northern Mexico on November 4.

Sanctions the federal government would be able to impose on Significant TCOs under Byrne’s legislation include:

  • Barring organization members and their immediate families from admission into the United States
  • Freezing assets
  • Seeking civil and criminal penalties against individuals providing material assistance or resources to the organization.

The bill also would require the president to submit a report to Congress detailing the government’s findings from the November 4 attack, including whether the cartel responsible should be designated as a Significant TCO.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has introduced the Senate version of Byrne’s bill.

Alabama has also had its problems with cartel-related violence and crime.

Attorney General Steve Marshall (R-AL) has advised that the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for “almost all” drugs imported into the Yellowhammer State. That cartel is headquartered in Culiacán, Mexico.

Just two weeks ago, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office took down two suspected Mexican cartel members in a major firearms and drug bust in the Birmingham metropolitan area.

Then, of course, there are the more shocking examples from the recent past, such as when cartel members in Alabama stabbed a grandmother to death and then beheaded her 13-year-old Huntsville granddaughter.

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

5 hours ago

Ivey orders flags to half-staff honoring slain Navy ensign

Governor Kay Ivey announced Friday that she is ordering all flags on government grounds to be flown at half staff on Sunday, December 22 to honor the life of Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson.

Watson, an Enterprise native who spent many of his formative years in Blount County, was killed in the shooting at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL, on December 6.

“Let us remember the life and service of Ensign Watson, who died as a hero trying to protect his fellow service members. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family, friends and community,” the governor said in her directive.

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According to reports relayed to the media by his family, the 23-year-old Watson saved many lives with his actions on the day of the shooting. His heroic actions drew praise from many of Alabama’s political leaders.

“After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable,” Adam Watson, the victim’s brother, told the Pensacola News Journal (PNJ).

Watson’s father, Benjamin, said of his son, “His mission was to confront evil, to bring the fight to them, wherever it took him. He was willing to risk his life for his country. We never thought he would die in Florida.”

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

You’re invited!

The biggest birthday party in Alabama’s history is taking place on December 14, and you are invited! Join us in Montgomery for the grand finale celebration of our state’s 200th birthday.

Watch the parade, listen to concerts and performances, visit open houses and much more.

This is sure to be a day you don’t want to miss. The event is free to the public and lasts all day starting with an elaborate parade at 10:00 a.m. The parade will travel from Court Square Fountain in downtown Montgomery up Dexter Avenue to the State Capitol. There will be marching bands, city floats and unique displays of Alabama history on wheels, such as the USS Alabama and U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The parade is a great opportunity for families to enjoy the celebration together – and it’s only the beginning of a packed day. Following the parade, Governor Kay Ivey will dedicate Bicentennial Park. The afternoon will offer performances, exhibitions and open houses throughout downtown Montgomery. The day will conclude with a concert featuring popular musicians from Alabama and the history of Alabama presented in a never-before-seen way.

Visit Alabama 200 Finale for a complete rundown of the day’s events.

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