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11 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.

24 mins ago

Mo Brooks questions Trump administration’s reaction to lawsuit about counting illegal aliens in the census

Republican Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) and Attorney General Steve Marshall have filed a suit against the federal government and their plans to count illegal immigrants in the 2020 census and use those numbers for congressional reapportionment, as well as the allocation of federal funding.

An adverse decision for Brooks, Marshall and Alabama would most likely cost the state a congressional seat, untold federal dollars and an Electoral College vote. States that have welcomed illegal immigrants are poised to benefit from their inclusion, and if this is allowed, it would incentivize policies that bring more illegal immigrants to those states.

Brooks appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Tuesday and said counting illegal immigrants on the census would result in American citizens losing out on representation while illegal immigrants gain power and influence.

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He added that members of Congress would become more inclined to pander to those who advocate for more illegal immigration.

“These large non-citizen populations in the state of California have an adverse effect on all the rest of us because they’re taking congressional seats from the rest of us,” Brooks explained. “[T]hat is the equivalent of about 25 or 30 congressional seats that are being taken from law-abiding states and given to those states that, by in large, are sanctuaries for illegal conduct.”

The Department of Justice helmed by Trump appointee and acting-Attorney General Matt Whitacker has asked federal courts to dismiss the lawsuit on a procedural basis for lack of standing. This move leads one to believe they will fight this lawsuit in court, a decision that has Brooks “baffled.”

“I am baffled that the Trump Department of Justice, at least in this instance, would side with sanctuary cities,” he said. “I would hope that they would do what you’re supposed to do as an attorney representing the United States of America, analyze it, and do what I have done. And that concludes that the 14th Amendment for the United States Constitution and Equal Protection Clause guarantees that no one citizen’s vote will be worth any more or less than another citizens vote.”

He argued the decision by the DOJ harms Americans and empowers pro-illegal immigration states.

“[W]hen you count illegal aliens in the census count, that redistributes Electoral College votes, and that redistributes congressional seats, those jurisdictions – particularly those who are sanctuary cities or sanctuary states – their citizens get more power per vote because there are fewer citizens in each of those Congressional Seats and the difference is the illegal alien headcount,” Brooks stated.

You would think Brooks would find a common ally in the current administration with a president who has made his campaign and administration about protecting Americans first and reigning in our out of control immigration policy but it does not appear to be heading that way on this issue and Alabama could lose out big time.

Listen here:

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

2 hours ago

Marshall confirms: Clark Morris to replace Hart in leading Special Prosecutions Division

On Tuesday, Attorney General Steve Marshall officially confirmed Yellowhammer News’ reporting that Anna “Clark” Morris will lead the office’s Special Prosecutions Division.

Morris is a longtime federal prosecutor who currently serves as first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. She will officially take over the AG’s Special Prosecutions Division, which investigates public corruption and white-collar crime, on January 7.

“I am delighted that Clark Morris has agreed to lead my public corruption unit,” Marshall said in a press release. “She is universally respected throughout the law enforcement community and is the kind of hard-nosed prosecutor you want on your team. Her work ethic, professionalism, and integrity are visible to those with whom she interacts on both sides of her cases.”

Marshall continued, “Public corruption continues to be a scourge on our great state, and I am confident that the people of Alabama will be well served by Clark in this role.”

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Marshall also highlighted that the move will boost the crucial working relationship between federal and state law enforcement and prosecutors in Alabama.

“Clark is not only highly experienced, but she also commands a strong working relationship with the U.S. Justice Department. Her addition to our office will make the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division more effective in partnering with federal law enforcement to target public corruption – a goal I have sought since I first took office in 2017,” Marshall explained.

U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin also noted that Morris’ appointment will enhance combined Federal/State efforts to combat crime in the Yellowhammer State.

“Mrs. Morris has been an incredible asset to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and her absence will be a huge loss. However, her new position at the Attorney General’s Office creates an opportunity for a partnership that we have not seen in years. Her leadership and judgment will serve the State of Alabama well, they are lucky to have her,” Franklin said.

Morris is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). She has served as an assistant United States attorney in both the Middle and Northern Districts of Alabama. In 2013, she was named first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District and has served two presidential administrations in that role. Her vast prosecutorial experience includes work in the White-Collar Crime Unit of the Middle District’s Criminal Division. Morris also served as acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District from March 2017 to November 2017.

A native of Alexander City, she is a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law (JD).

The role leading the Special Prosecutions Division became vacant when controversial Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart resigned on Monday morning.

Marshall has named James Houts as the interim chief for the Special Prosecutions Division. Houts is the former chief of Criminal Appeals for the Attorney General’s Office.

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

3 hours ago

Solar farm proposed in Wiregrass would be Alabama’s largest

An energy project proposed for southeast Alabama could become the state’s largest solar farm.

The Dothan Eagle reports that Houston County commissioners have approved a 10-year property tax abatement for about 1,000 acres of land selected for a huge solar array.

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Matt Parker of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce says the move allows NextEra Energy to project its potential costs and could help land the $75 million project for the area.

Parker says solar panels would cover about 600 acres of land, with additional acreage for buffers and other facilities.

He says the solar project could begin producing power in about three years.

NextEra Energy is based in Juno Beach, Florida.

It has a large solar array in Lauderdale County that provides power to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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4 hours ago

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program ranked nation’s best once again

Alabama is ranked number one in the nation in something besides football, and under Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership, this type of success appears to be becoming a strong trend.

A recently released report named Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as America’s best once again, lauding the state-funded program as the “only pre-kindergarten program in the country that comes close to having all the elements of a strong pre-k program.”

In its “Implementing 15 Essential Elements for High-Quality Pre-K: An Updated Scan of State Polices” report, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program fully met 14 of the report’s 15 “essential elements” characterizing high-quality programs, and it partially met the 15th element, too.

Included among these benchmarks were measurements assessing a program’s leadership, early learning policies and program practices. Alabama’s performance in meeting the essential elements exceeded the national average by more than 233 percent.

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Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA) lauded NIEER’s latest study, pointing out that the Yellowhammer State’s adherence to high quality is one reason why ongoing research by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) shows that students who attend First Class Pre-K perform better than their peers on state reading and math assessments.

“The National Institute for Early Education Research is the foremost leader on pre-kindergarten quality and for this organization to continually find Alabama’s program among the nation’s best is a testament to state leaders,” Allison Muhlendorf, ASRA executive director, said in a press release.

She continued, “The Essential Elements report confirms that the long-term effectiveness of a pre-k program is dependent on its commitment to quality, and we are proud that Alabama continues to differentiate itself as the nation’s standard-bearer in this effort.”

Alabama also received strong marks from NIEER in May when the organization released its annual State of Preschool Yearbook. That report ranked Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as the nation’s highest quality program for the 12th consecutive year.

The Office of School Readiness, housed within the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, administers First Class Pre-K.

“First Class Pre-K is a nationally-recognized program of excellence,” Jeana Ross, Secretary of Early Childhood Education, said in a statement after the release of the NIEER Yearbook earlier this year. “The program framework encompasses all aspects of the highest quality early learning experiences that ensure school readiness for children, and this emphasis on quality impacts student outcomes far beyond kindergarten.”

While the NIEER Yearbook examines state policies that support state-funded pre-k, the Essential Elements report reviews the environment needed for states to execute a high-quality pre-kindergarten program, as well as the degree to which states implement their policies.

There are currently 1,045 Alabama First Class Pre-K classrooms located in various public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs and other community-based preschool settings. However, that is only enough classrooms to enroll 32 percent of four-year-olds across the state, and ASRA and state leaders want to continue increasing access to the tremendously successful program.

This spring, the Alabama Legislature approved Ivey’s request for the program’s largest-ever single-year budget increase – an extra $18.5 million for First Class Pre-K in the 2019 program budget, bringing its annual total to $96 million.

“Having a strong start to one’s educational journey is critical to having a strong finish when it comes time to enter the workforce,” Ivey said in a release at the time. “Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program is, without question, the best in the nation. I am proud that we can increase the reach of this important educational opportunity, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to further expand the availability of voluntary Pre-K.”

In 2012, ASRA’s business-led Pre-K Task Force launched a ten-year campaign to advocate for full funding for the First Class Pre-K program through incremental state funding increases. ASRA has estimated that the state would need to appropriate a total level of funding of $144 million to give every Alabama family the opportunity to enroll their four-year-old in a First Class Pre-K program voluntarily.

Ivey hosted a packed Early Childhood Education Leadership Forum last week, where the governor stressed that she wanted to see continued progress moving forward in the early stage of education, including Pre-K.

The Ivey administration has also overseen Alabama being ranked as the nation’s best for its engaged workforce, business climate and manufacturing, along with other top economic development rankings.

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

4 hours ago

Sewell decries ‘voting irregularities’ in Alabama; Says first bill introduced in Dem-controlled Congress will address

SELMA — Although the focus on so-called “voting irregularities” in the midterm elections earlier this month was put on votes in neighboring Georgia and Florida, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) spoke out on those happening here in Alabama at a town hall meeting she hosted on Monday.

Sewell spoke of voting irregularities in Huntsville earlier this month at a gathering at the Selma Interpretative Center in downtown Selma.

Despite a federal judge’s ruling earlier this month calling that claim into question, Sewell criticized how voters at Huntsville’s Oakman College and Alabama A&M were allegedly taken off the voter rolls.

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“We all saw voting irregularities occur across this nation in this 2018 midterm elections,” she said. “We saw it in Florida. We saw it in Georgia. We saw it in Alabama. I want you to know there were historically black colleges in Huntsville where Oakwood and Alabama A&M students were taken off, purged from the voter rolls because the notice that they were given from our secretary of state went to a P.O. box at the school. Many of those students live off campus, so they didn’t respond, they didn’t receive this notification that they had to go and make sure that their names were spelled right. And they were purged from the rolls. We had to get provisional ballots and have election protection officials go to Huntsville on Election Day. That’s in Alabama.”

Sewell said it was “worse” in Georgia, where Gov.-elect Brian Kemp was “a referee and a player” as a candidate in that election, and she criticized where some voters purged from the rolls for mismatching of names in some circumstances.

The Birmingham Democrat insisted some of these irregularities may have been prevented had the U.S. Supreme Court not overturned certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.

“What would happen is states like Georgia and Alabama would have to pre-clear any changes in voter laws – any changes,” Sewell said.

Sewell promoted her Voting Rights Advancement Act, which she said would restore some of the pre-clearance requirements.

“We have got to put the teeth back into, the enforceability back into the Voting Rights Act and that is what my bill does,” she said. “And I was told by Ms. Pelosi last week that H.R. 1, the first bill the Democrats will produce will be a bill to have democratic reform to our democracy, so we can truly be a democracy for the people – working on behalf of all the people. And my bill will be a part of H.R. 1.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.