1 year 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.

7 hours ago

Can cleaning the ocean be marketed?

Trillions of pieces of plastic are creating huge garbage patches in the world’s oceans. One company’s efforts to do something about this problem can lead us to rethink some perceived economic wisdom.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that two million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year. Most of this waste results from irresponsible disposal. Ocean currents have created five major garbage patches. The most notable is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawaii, double the size of Texas and containing 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. The patches are nuisances, can harm ocean life, and provide one rationale for banning plastic straws, silverware, and bags, although the wisdom of plastic bans is a topic for another day.

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Floridians Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze witnessed the ocean trash problem while surfing in Bali and started 4Ocean in response. As the company’s website describes it, “Devastated by the amount of plastic in the ocean, they set out to find out why no one was doing anything about it.”
The problem was that no one could get paid to pick up the trash, and Mr. Cooper and Mr. Schulze hit upon an idea. For $20, customers can buy a 4Ocean bracelet made from recycled plastic and remove one pound of trash. To date, 4Ocean has removed more than 4.4 million pounds of plastic.
Can we trust that 4Ocean removes trash from the ocean? To assure customers, 4Ocean relies on Green Circle Certification. Green Circle provides third party certification of a variety of environmental claims, including recycled content in products, energy savings, and carbon footprint reduction. Companies like 4Ocean pay Green Circle to assess their operations. For certified claims, Green Circle lets the customer use their symbol and enters the product in their online database.

Certification seemingly faces a conflict of interest: Won’t Green Circle always certify the claims of paying customers? While this is a danger, ultimately a third party certifier really sells only its veracity. 4Ocean will only pay if Green Circle’s seal matters to potential customers. Green Circle, which has been in business since 2009, makes money over time only by being honest.

Third party certification has a long history. The case most studied by economists is Underwriters’ Laboratories, which tests consumer products for safety. The UL stamp assures insurers that lamps, toasters, and other products are not fire hazards.

How does this relate to government and environmental protection? Americans value protecting the environment, but conventional wisdom holds that business cannot make money protecting the environment. Any commercial venture must charge for its product or service, and normally does so by allowing only paying customers to get the product or service.

Yet allowing only paying customers to benefit from environmental protection is almost impossible: everyone benefits if the Great Pacific Garbage Pile is cleaned up. If businesses cannot market environmental protection, we will have to turn to government and taxes.

We have an incentive to let someone else clean up the ocean, but also like to contribute to good causes. 4Ocean taps into this sentiment, and their bracelet lets customers to show off their good deed. Environmental groups raise millions of dollars in a similar fashion. Charities do this too; Save the Children allows donors to learn the story of a child they “rescue.”

Proponents of government action will point with justification that the funds raised through markets to protect the environment are small relative to the scale of the problems. The 2,200 tons of plastic 4Ocean is just a drop in the bucket. Yet government efforts can be poorly funded, very costly, and of poor quality. The Government Accountability Office has repeatedly documented the flaws of the Energy Star labeling program.

Ultimately we must pay for environmental protection. Businesses and charities must deliver to continue being supported by their customers or patrons. Each success in marketing environmental protection enables a valuable alternative and should be celebrated.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

7 hours ago

VIDEO: Alabama’s abortion bill gets plenty of attention, changes to a proposed lottery fund education, tariffs hurt Alabama farmers and more on Guerrilla Politics …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Is Alabama’s abortion ban good policy or good politics?

— Will the 25 percent allocated for education secure the passage of a lottery in Alabama?

— Will Alabama farmers blame President Donald Trump or the previous administration for the current impact tariffs are having on their livelihoods?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by Democratic activist Pam Miles to discuss plans to protest Alabama’s abortion ban and how Democrats in Alabama move forward.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at those perpetrating the “25 white men” narrative when discussing Alabama’s abortion ban.

https://www.facebook.com/303363616352436/posts/2418925051462938/

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

10 hours ago

Roby: A pro-life update from the federal level

Throughout my time in Congress, I have been staunchly and unapologetically pro-life. I will continue to use this platform to fight for life at every stage because unborn babies cannot fight for themselves. Since much of the news in our state and throughout the country lately has focused on recent pro-life efforts, I would like to take this opportunity to share an update about my work on the federal level to defend the unborn.

In February of this year, the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that would restrict Title X family planning grants from being steered to entities that are not physically and financially separate from abortion providers. A series of court injunctions have frozen these rule changes, and as a result, hundreds of abortion facilities, like Planned Parenthood, are still receiving federal tax dollars through Title X grants.

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While the rule is going through the judicial process, the Democrat majority on the House Appropriations Committee has elected to tie the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services through legislation stating that the Department may only act in accordance with regulations established prior to January 18, 2017, just two days before Donald Trump became President. This is unacceptable – we simply cannot handcuff the current administration to regulations of the past.

During the recent full Appropriations Committee markup of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee Fiscal Year 2020 funding bill, I offered an amendment that would allow the courts, rather than the Democrat majority in the House, to decide the fate of the Trump administration’s proposed rule restricting Title X family planning grants from being awarded to facilities that provide abortions. Despite the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment, abortion providers have been able to get their hands on American tax dollars through these Title X funds. I am unapologetically pro-life, so I don’t want this to happen, and the majority of the people I represent don’t want this to happen.

The Trump administration’s proposed rule would draw a clear, bright line between family planning services and abortion providers. Unfortunately, my amendment did not pass, but to ensure that the rule has a fighting chance of becoming law, we must allow it to go through our judicial process – not block it legislatively as part of a political game.

In addition to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also taking measures to stand up for the unborn. Two foreign companies, Aid Access and Rablon, have been known to distribute chemical abortion drugs to customers in the United States by mail-order. This practice is already illegal, and the FDA has taken action against it, but it is still happening.

This abortion drug, called Mifeprex, is approved by the FDA, but it is only legally available to patients in the United States through health care providers. It is not available in retail pharmacies, and it is certainly not legally available on the Internet. However, these abortion-by-mail providers, primarily based in Europe, have widened their consumer base to include the U.S. They provide remote consultations, send prescriptions to be filled in India, then send the abortion drug to U.S. customers by mail.

By violating the FDA’s safety protocols, these companies are endangering the health of American women and their children. The FDA has been combating these practices, but I recently led a letter, signed by 117 of my colleagues, that was sent to Dr. Norman Sharpless, acting FDA commissioner, urging him to further crackdown. I was proud to join my fellow pro-life colleagues in sending the clear message that we will not tolerate these dangerous, illegal practices, and I applaud the steps the FDA has already taken to protect women and unborn children.

I share these updates to make the point that while we still face challenges, our pro-life momentum is strong, and I will keep pushing forward on the federal level. I want the people I represent in Alabama’s Second District to know that defending the unborn remains a top priority of mine, and I will continue to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

12 hours ago

University of Alabama, other Southern flagship universities see biggest bump in enrollment

Enrollment at several universities in the South jumped more than 50 percent in a decade, according to data from the College Board.

University of Arkansas saw its number of full-time students grow 63 percent from 2007 to 2016, the most of any flagship university. University of Alabama and University of Mississippi had the next largest increases at 55 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

In addition to the allure of football tailgate parties, students may have been enticed by lower tuition fees and living expenses. Among the 50 flagships, University of Arkansas ranked No. 38 in cost, while Alabama was No. 30 and Ole Miss came in at No. 44.

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Admissions officers should take note. The high school class of 2012 ushered in a first wave of declines in the number of graduates nationwide, according to a report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, Colorado. The trend will worsen after 2025, when the impact hits from a drop in births that began with the 2007 recession.

Some of the boost in enrollment at schools in warmer locales coincides with a rise in the region’s population growth, with exceptions. Florida’s population grew by 2.45 million since 2010 while its flagship university saw enrollment slide 4.4 percent from 2007 to 2016.

Studying in the Sunshine State comes with a hefty price tag for non-residents. Out-of-state students at the University of Florida pay more than four times what their in-state counterparts pay, the largest premium among the 50 flagship schools. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ranks second. Out-of-state students there pay more than $35,000 in tuition while those in-state pay less than $9,000.

University of Michigan is the most expensive flagship university for out-of-state students, at close to $50,000 per year. Next are University of Virginia and University of California at Berkeley. All three are consistently among the top-ranked U.S. public colleges.

Meanwhile, the cost gap for in-state and out-of-state students decreased the most at University of Georgia over the last decade.

University of MontanaUniversity of Idaho and University of Alaska saw the biggest declines in enrollment despite their in-state tuition costs trailing their faster-growing counterparts. Enrollment also tumbled at University of South Dakota, which has the best deal for out-of-state students. Tuition and fees for the 2018-19 school year there were just $12,425.

(With assistance from Janet Lorin and Marie Patino. Contact the reporter at shagan9@bloomberg.net.)

This article first appeared on Bloomberg.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Birmingham Botanical Gardens water features get a makeover

Every spring, visitors stream into the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Children dart among the uprights at the Granite Garden fountain and dash to the Rose Gardens to see if the roses have started to bloom, or humor their parents and pose for photos.

Whether they’re coming for exercise or inspiration, guests of all ages and interests have a chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of springtime, and among these – in no small part – are the artistry and lyrical babbling of the gardens’ beloved water features.

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Over the past two years, more than half of the gardens’ 14 water features have undergone a transformation, thanks to membership support and the combined efforts of Jane Underwood, operations manager with the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and Virgil Mathews, district horticulture supervisor with the city of Birmingham. During your next visit, check out these newly refurbished water features – a testament to the dynamic relationship between garden and water landscape.

The Cochran Water Wall in the Hill Garden was the first to be rehabbed. Dedicated in 1988, it is the focal point of the garden.

“The water wall had stopped sheeting over the entire top edge. As a result, the basin was not filling up and recirculating,” Underwood says. “We had to figure out where water was going and how to repair it.”

Underwood and Mathews worked with Alabama Aquatics, which removed the tile on the back wall and sealed the wall before replacing the tile. Problem solved.

They then turned their attention to the 1967 Japanese Garden streambed because the water was not cascading over the waterfalls.

“It was flowing into cavities before it ever reached the waterfall,” Underwood says.

Parrot Structural Services pumped the cavities with hydraulic cement to fill the voids. They applied the same treatment to the Abroms Rhododendron Species Garden basin, the Curry Rhododendron Garden pond and the Fern Glade streambed.

The team was excited to discover a way to have the iconic North and South Urns repaired on-site. Dedicated in 1988, the urns are fixtures of the Formal Garden and help frame the space. Estes Paintingused epoxy to fill rust holes in the cast-iron vessels, sanded the urns and repainted them.

Alabama Aquarium & Pond Services (AAPS) then installed new pumps and placed them in such a way that they’re not visible from the paths,” Underwood says.

Other improvements were less extensive but no less important. In the Curry Rhododendron Garden pond, “horticulturist Tiffany Sutton had been filling the pond with a hose when the water level dropped,” Underwood says. A new pump with an auto-fill feature now fills it as needed.

The 2006 Loblolly Pine Cone fountain by sculptor Brad Morton in the Southern Living Garden also received a new pump. The Abroms Rhododendron Species Garden basin, which like most streambeds at the gardens was created with shotcrete applied directly to the soil without rebar to reinforce it, was rebuilt using reinforced concrete. Thanks to the combined efforts of Bright Future Electric and AAPS, the quaint pond in the McReynolds Garden greets visitors with the gentle welcome of a bubbly fountain.

“It’s amazing – the feel of the place – when the fountains are up and running,” Underwood says. “When you walk through the Japanese Garden or sit in the new swings in the Abroms Rhododendron Species Garden, water makes such a difference in the aesthetic of these spots. The gardens feel so alive.”

This story first appeared in the spring 2019 issue of The Garden Dirt magazine published by Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)