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7 months ago

Guest Opinion: Alabama internet connectivity not as bad as Huntsville mayor says

 

As he gears up for his gubernatorial run, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is pushing a more connected “Cyber Alabama”, noting that the state ranks 40th in the nation for internet connectivity.

But the number of state residents he cites lacking what Battle deems adequate internet speeds – 883,000 – is tied to the Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband standard of 25 megabits per second, a 250 percent boost from the previous standard, that was approved under former Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015.

That paradigm shift suddenly made adequate internet speeds inadequate in the eyes of many bureaucrats, leading to a push for more local governments to step in with taxpayer-funded services, although residents can still stream video on multiple devices with speeds well below 25 mbps.  

In Battle’s own backyard of Madison County, residents enjoy a variety of choices – although leaders like the Huntsville mayor want to tout new entrant Google Fiber as a savior for the city. Google Fiber is leasing dark fiber from Huntsville Utilities, which is in the midst of building a gigabit-capable broadband network and power grid upgrade using $57 million in ratepayer dollars. The utility hopes to recover most of those costs with leases to providers like Google Fiber, although it hasn’t yet announced any other leasees or been forthcoming with financial details on the Google Fiber deal.

Battle’s quest may be a solution in search of a problem considering the introduction of fast speeds by private providers. For example,  AT&T is expanding its Internet 1000 gigabit service to Huntsville and other north Alabama cities, while WOW! Internet, Cable & Phone began providing gig speeds in Huntsville last fall. Comcast will offer speeds up to 10 gigabits per second to Huntsville residents this year. Mediacom is undergoing a major expansion to provide gig speeds in 18 communities in north Alabama and south Tennessee, criticizing the subsidies and cherry-picking ability enjoyed by providers such as Google Fiber.

In his recent blog post, culled from his address to the annual conference of Government Managed Information Systems, Battle gives the introduction of Google Fiber to the Huntsville market the credit for the local internet revolution, but the reality is that legacy providers like AT&T and Comcast have been systemically implementing gig internet across the U.S. for years.

Battle said that 1.1 million people in Alabama have access to only one wired provider, leaving them no options to switch. It’s an argument that’s been at the heart of many government broadband projects, as bureaucrats vote to use taxpayer funds to give residents more internet options.

Putting aside the notion it’s not government’s place to supplement the private market on internet, which has much more expertise in the practice, the money being thrown at publicly owned internet projects would be better suited as subsidies for a free market searching for solutions to solve that rural broadband gap.

For example, Connect America funding is helping fuel the growth of fixed wireless, which allows providers to beam internet signals from cell towers to antennas installed on nearby homes. There are more than 1,400 such providers in the country, covering most of the population.

Better lawmaking would also help. Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) has twice introduced legislation that would provide an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of the investment in qualified broadband telecom network facilities and a 10-year property tax exemption on those facilities in rural areas. His amendment to the Alabama Renewal Act would also exempt sales and use tax for equipment and materials used to operate those facilities.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm in 2018 for Scofield and his smart broadband bills seeking to incentivize private providers to expand to areas where they otherwise struggle to turn a profit.

Alabama needs to be better prepared for a future that will require more high-speed internet, but let’s make sure it’s done the smart way – with less taxpayer money and more reliance on the private sector.

Johnny Kampis, a resident of Cullman, is investigative reporter for the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

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23 mins ago

Alabama airman killed in WWII to be buried in Florida this week

An Alabama man who was killed during World War II is being buried in Florida after his remains were identified decades following his death.

The Pentagon says a funeral is scheduled for Thursday in Pensacola for Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Percy C. Mathews of Andalusia.

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Mathew was 25 and serving on a B-17 bomber when it was struck by enemy fire while attacking a German submarine base in France on May 29, 1943. Mathews went down with the aircraft.

A statement from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency says a set of unidentified remains were determined to be those of Mathews thanks to genetic testing and the work of a French researcher, Daniel Dahiot.

Mathews was a member of the 422nd Bombardment Squadron, 305th Bombardment Group, 8th U.S. Air Force.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 hour ago

Ex-NFL, Alabama player Keith McCants arrested on drug charge

A former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the University of Alabama has been arrested on drug charges in Florida.

Pinellas County Jail records show 50-year-old Keith McCants was arrested early Monday near St. Petersburg.

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He’s charged with a felony count of possession of crack cocaine and driving with a revoked or suspended license.

He bonded out of jail, but records don’t list a lawyer.

Jail records show multiple arrests since 2010. His most recent arrest was in January, for driving with a suspended license.

Court records show he faces a July 10 court date.

McCants made the All-America Team at Alabama and was selected fourth overall by the Buccaneers in the 1990 NFL Draft.

His career ended in 1995. He also played for the Oilers and Cardinals.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

Former news production building in Birmingham sells for $1.5 million

The former Birmingham News production building has been sold for $1.5 million.

Al.com reports the buyer is looking to transform the 97,000-square-foot building into a self-storage facility.

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The Birmingham Design Review Committee approved the concept in February.

“As a Birmingham native we are excited to be a part of the continued revitalization of downtown Birmingham.

We look forward to providing first class service in this self-storage project for the business community and the growing residential population in the city center,” Brent Fields, one of the owners of News Properties LCC, said in a statement.

The former news production building was built in 1982 on 1.60 acres.

Alabama Media Group moved the printing of the Birmingham News to Atlanta last year.

Eddie Greenhalgh, first vice president of investments, for Marcus & Millichap’s Birmingham office, says the conversion of the building to self-storage represents a wider revitalization of Birmingham’s downtown area.

Birchfield Penuel & Associates is the architect.

Christy Roddy and William Ledbetter of Cushman & Wakefield-EGS Commercial Real Estate represented the seller, Advance Local Media, the parent company of Alabama Media Group. Greenhalgh also represented the seller.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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Bill ‘Bubba’ Bussey receives heart stent, shares special moment with nurse

Bill “Bubba” Bussey, beloved radio co-host of the Birmingham-based and wildly popular “Rick and Bubba Show,” said his Friday morning procedure went well and was all smiles in an Instagram photo he shared after a successful heart stent placement.

“We are out! All good, now just a lot of recover time and being very very still. Your prayers have been heard and felt!!!” he wrote on Instagram.

Bussey is in his early fifties and was on his feet Friday, writing on Instagram that “Bubba seems to be feeling better,” sharing a playful moment with an “unnamed nurse” he helped with her “volley.”

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Early this morning, Bussey said in an Instagram post with the St. Vincent’s East location stamp that he shared a special moment with a retiring nurse:

“So many people to thank for the great care I got this weekend… but this lady ‘Miss Sandra’ was retiring after 30 plus years of nursing. I was her last patient, of her last shift!! She checked my pulse on the way out the door! Happy retirement Sandra! Thanks for letting me be a part of this special moment.”

From all of us at Yellowhammer News, get well soon, Bubba!

3 hours ago

Alabama college ending aquaculture program after 27 years

An Alabama college is citing declining enrollment for a decision to ends its aquaculture program after 27 years.

Gadsden State Community College says it will discontinue the courses next spring.

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School spokeswoman Jackie Edmondson tells The Gadsden Times the program was one of the few of its kind in the nation.

The program teaches students to care for aquatic life in natural and captive environments.

Enrollees work with fresh- and saltwater fish and plants in tanks and ponds.

But the program can’t support itself any longer because enrollment is down.

Statistics show 27 students have completed the program in the last five years, or slightly more than five per year.

The teacher, Hugh Hammer, says only one of the last 10 graduates is employed in the area.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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