2 months ago

Ivey awards $9.5 million in grants to expand broadband access

Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Tuesday that she has awarded more than $9.5 million to go toward expanding high-speed internet access around the state.

Ivey awarded 20 grants to nine broadband providers as part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, according to a release from her office.

These grants resulted from the 2019 round of applications and are administered through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

“Availability of high-speed internet has always been vital, but the events of the past several weeks magnify just how imperative it is that all Alabamians have access to broadband,” Ivey said. “I am pleased to support these projects and look forward to the day when every household, school, healthcare facility, emergency service and business throughout Alabama is afforded broadband availability.”

The fund was created through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, passed by the legislature, and signed into law by Ivey, in 2018. Its purpose is to spur economic development and improve the quality of life in the state’s rural areas by increasing high-speed internet access.

The requirement for remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis has only hastened the need to expand the state’s efforts.

“As our day-to-day way of living has been impacted over the past few weeks, it has underscored the value and necessity of high-speed broadband services,” emphasized ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “That is something that Governor Ivey, the Legislature and ADECA have been working to address through the Broadband Accessibility Fund. ADECA takes its role in administering this program seriously and is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility.”

State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), a long-time champion for rural broadband expansion, recently expressed similar sentiment.

“I don’t think anything else could have brought the issue more to light than [COVID-19] — on something I’ve been jumping up and down, screaming about for a long, long time. And that is narrowing the digital divide in the state of Alabama,” Scofield remarked to radio host Jeff Poor. “You know, roughly only almost one-fifth of the state doesn’t have access to high-speed internet. And you know, that really — those areas of the state are making it difficult to make a decision on what our students are going to do for the rest of the school year, just in case they can’t go back to school.”

While the 2019 grants will continue roll-out, the next round of expansion from 2020 applications has hit a roadblock.

RELATED: Alabama’s rural broadband expansion meets resistance

Fourteen of the applications for the first round of this year’s grants have been challenged by other providers, according to ADECA.

Scofield questioned the motive of those issuing bulk challenges to grant applications. He believes the intent is “to slow them down.”

“They don’t want to service rural Alabama, but they don’t want anyone else to pick up any market share,” he elaborated.

Now is not the time, he believes, to slow the process down.

“I’ve been working on the issue for six years now,” Scofield explained. “This year, if all the grants go through at ADECA, they could hook up about 86,000 more entities. I think, ‘If we could have been doing that for the last five years, where we could be right now?’ This expansion does not need to be slowed down right now, we need to be ramping it up and the coronavirus situation is proof positive as to why.”

Below is a full list of grants awarded by Ivey this round:

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $224,175 to provide broadband services in north Lowndes County including 301 households and 15 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $289,100 for service in southwest Autauga and southeast Dallas counties including 343 households and 38 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $480,200 for service in northwest Autauga, northeast Dallas and south Chilton counties including nearly 500 households and 31 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $682,325 for service adjacent to the town of Billingsley in Autauga County which includes 656 households and 45 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $1.06 million for service in Chilton County south of the city of Clanton and north of the town of Billingsley which is in neighboring Autauga County. The project will offer service to 1,093 households and 41 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $557,987 for service in north-central Autauga County and parts of south-central Chilton County to include service offerings to 743 households and 21 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $531,650 for service in southeast Chilton County, northeast Autauga County and northwest Elmore County including 509 households and 17 businesses.

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $279,300 for service in northwest Chilton County and east Bibb County including 409 households and 12 businesses.

Charter Communications – $336,830 for service in the town of Autaugaville in Autauga County including 641 household and 14 businesses.

Comcast of Alabama – $820,750 to service the Town of Dauphin Island in Mobile County including 2,500 households and 24 businesses.

Hayneville Telephone Co. – $205,705 for service in Lowndes County’s Black Belt and Hicks Hill communities including 258 households and four businesses.

Hayneville Telephone Co. – $125,671 for service in an area southeast of the town of Hayneville including 187 households and one business.

Hayneville Telephone Co. – $143,265 for service southwest of the town of Hayneville including 191 households and two businesses.

Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $90,072 for service in the Butler County community of Poorhouse community northeast of the city of Greenville.

JTM Broadband – $404,414 for service in Lauderdale County east of the town of Killen including 1,303 households and 247 businesses.

Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative – $529,707 for service in north Crenshaw County and south Montgomery County including 350 households.

National Telephone of Alabama – $357,171 for service in the Red Rock community in Colbert County including 205 households and six businesses.

Roanoke Telephone Co. – $308,882 – for service in an area of south Randolph County between the municipalities of Roanoke and Wadley including 269 households and four businesses.

Troy Cablevision – $1.38 million for service in parts of Coffee, Covington, Geneva and Houston counties including 1,190 households and 80 businesses.

Troy Cablevision – $750,625 for service in parts of Coffee, Crenshaw and Pike counties including 603 households and 38 businesses.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 hours ago

Virtual K-12 school options see increased attention as pre-existing growth hastened by pandemic

Since the state legislature passed a law creating the option in 2015, attending an Alabama public school over the internet has become an increasingly popular choice for students across the state.

The year 2020 saw the first graduating class of students who learned virtually for all four years of their high school education.

Additionally, online schools are seeing increased attention as the coronavirus pandemic creates concern among some returning students.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey told WBRC that school officials are looking to expand virtual learning options. Mackey highlighted specifically that virtual options would let immunocompromised students learn without the fear of contracting COVID-19.

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State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, told Yellowhammer News that the consensus number among Alabama educators, as of now, is around 5% of students may not return to the classroom this fall.

Estimated enrollment in Alabama’s public schools is around 740,000 students. Five percent of that would be 37,000 school kids.

“We’re just going to have to see what that looks like, and it may look different in different places,” added Collins on the coronavirus’ impact on enrollment.

The pioneering class that learned virtually for all four years graduated from Alabama Virtual Academy (ALVA), a project of Eufala City Schools. ALVA began with 50 students in 2015 and grew to over 3,000 students by 2019.

The Academy plans to raise its enrollment to 3,500 this fall to help accommodate increased interest during the coronavirus pandemic.

Students can enroll in ALVA regardless of where they live in Alabama.

Alabama Virtual Academy is done in partnership with the company K12 Education Inc., a firm that specializes in building online learning programs.

K12 Education Senior Director of School Partnerships and Compliance Perry Daniel told Yellowhammer News that ALVA is especially popular for students who live in Huntsville and Birmingham.

Daniel said 80% of nongraduating students who enrolled in ALVA last year have chosen to return this fall.

Students enroll in ALVA similarly to how they would at any other public school. The necessary supplies are then shipped to students at home.

Instruction at ALVA is conducted through a platform named Online School, with a supplement of video conferencing with certain teachers. It is available for students in grades K-12.

The Limestone County school system operates the Limestone County Virtual School Center, which is roughly similar in enrollment and course offerings to the Alabama Virtual Academy.

Athens City Schools and Conecuh County both operate much smaller virtual learning options.

The Chickasaw City school system in Mobile County opened a virtual academy focused on career training at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

The school, called Alabama Destinations Career Academy, serves students in grades K-9 and aims to present “hands-on learning experiences in growing career fields” such as “information technology, heath and human services, and advanced manufacturing,” according to a release provided to Yellowhammer News.

Reporting by Alabama Media Group indicates there were 6,100 Alabama students enrolled in the virtual schools during the 2019-2020 school year.

ALVA from Eufala City Schools led the way with 3,091 students and Limestone County Virtual had 2,298.

A source of tension in the development of online schools is that the system providing the school gets the allotment of resources the State of Alabama allocates for each pupil enrolled, even as the costs for providing a virtual school are much less than a physical location.

The Alabama Department of Education recently issued a request for proposals to see which organizations could offer a feasible statewide online school. The proposals are due Friday, June 5.

“[I]n an abundance of caution, we want to have a virtual option in place that school systems across the state can take advantage of in the event it is needed,” Alabama State Department of Education Communications Director Michael Sibley recently told Alabama Media Group.

Collins commented to Yellowhammer about the statewide digital school, “I hope we’re just not looking for a bargain basement price, but that we’re actually looking for quality online education. Because it is available, and we want to make sure we’re getting something that is best for the students of Alabama.”

At the encouragement of Superintendent Mackey, multiple school systems across the state are also developing their own local virtual schools for this fall and beyond. Such efforts would be independent of the statewide virtual academy.

Collins told Yellowhammer that systems in Decatur City and Hartselle City, which she represents, are both building local virtual options.

Alabama State Senator Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) recently addressed the ALVA graduating class that learned virtually for all of high school.

Gudger told the graduates, “We will talk about what happened these past few months for the rest of our lives, especially new phenomenon like social distancing.”

The state senator continued, “But one term that did not surprise any of you was virtual learning, because you all are the pioneers for virtual education here in Alabama. The skills you have learned at ALVA will undoubtedly serve you well as you advance to the next stage of life. Congratulations again a job well done.”

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

4 hours ago

Alabama Farmers Federation endorses Jerry Carl in AL-01

The Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm, FarmPAC, on Tuesday announced the endorsement of Republican Jerry Carl in Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Carl, a Mobile County commissioner and businessman, is set to face former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) in a GOP primary runoff on July 14.

Per FarmPAC’s process, congressional endorsements are recommended by county federations in each district based on the candidates’ positions on key issues impacting farmers and rural Alabama.

“We take pride in being a grassroots organization with local leaders driving the endorsement process,” Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said in a statement.

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“After a careful consideration, county Federations in southwest Alabama made their recommendation, and I am pleased to announce the Alabama Farmers Federation has endorsed Jerry Carl,” he advised. “Alabama’s 1st Congressional district has a rich heritage rooted in agriculture and timber, and Jerry will be strong advocate from those industries in Washington.”

Carl expressed appreciation for the federation’s endorsement.

“It is an incredible honor to have the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation,” Carl remarked. “With agriculture being our state’s largest industry, our farmers are the backbone of our state and our economy. They represent the hard-working interests of the district that I will fight for in Congress as we work to get our economy back on track.”

“The Federation knows I will fight tirelessly for the president’s agenda and will do what is needed to support the hard-working men and women who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” he concluded.

Other candidates previously endorsed by the federation who are running in the July 14 Republican runoff are Tommy Tuberville for the U.S. Senate, Jeff Coleman for Congress in AL-02 and Judge Beth Kellum for Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2.

RELATED: Merrill: Absentee balloting still an option for runoff voters concerned about coronavirus

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

5 hours ago

City of Mobile cleans Confederate statue after overnight vandalism; Suspect arrested, charged

The statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes in downtown Mobile was defaced on Monday night, with a suspect already being booked and the monument restored.

Local media outlets reported that 20-year-old Mitchell Bond, a white male, has been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor after graffiting the base of the statue.

A two-person crew from the City of Mobile reportedly spent more than an hour power-washing the statue, and the spray paint can no longer be seen, per WKRG.

Bond, apparently sporting a t-shirt depicting former President Bill Clinton firing a gun, was hauled off to jail in handcuffs on Tuesday. His arrest came after investigators utilized surveillance footage of the incident, per NBC 15.

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Semmes commanded the CSS Alabama in the Confederate Navy. He died in Mobile in 1877.

Originally dedicated in 1900, the statue of Semmes is covered by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.

George Talbot, director of communications and external affairs for the City of Mobile, told Fox 10 that “the statue was vandalized last night and a suspect has been identified. The graffiti is being cleaned, as we would do with any public property. Any decision on moving it would be collaborative in nature. There is a process for that, and we are listening to the community’s voice as part of that process.”

Semmes is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame. The City of Semmes in western Mobile County was named after him, as was The Admiral Hotel (a Curio by Hilton property) in downtown Mobile.

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

5 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Politicians taking a knee display performative wokeness, performative weakness

Why would an American politician take a knee as protesters chant “take a knee” or publish a picture of them taking a knee to social media?

There are only two reasons: performative wokeness or performative weakness.

There is a difference, but every single time some sad white politician thinks he or she can quiet a mob or show solidarity by taking a knee they are sadly mistaken.

That never appears to be the goal. This appears to be about pandering acquiescence and nothing more.

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Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, a public official of one of the most progressive non-college towns in the state, took a knee at a “mostly peaceful protest.”

Why?

According to Battle, he was attempting to show he supported the protest to keep his community safe.

“You know, I walked up and they said ‘kneel with me,'” Battle said on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show.” “I didn’t know if they wanted to pray or if they wanted to kneel, but I was fine with it. You know, there’s no pride in this thing. The pride is getting through the event and getting through it with our community intact and without shots being fired and without windows being broken. If it takes kneeling, I’ll kneel to try to make sure our community is safe.”

That is performative wokeness.

When asked about the chants and demands that cops kneel at this same protest, Battle said he never saw that and felt there was no need for it from Huntsville police.

“They kept saying, ‘They need to kneel, they need to kneel.’ There wasn’t a need for them to kneel. They were standing there doing their job and they were standing there as a blue line in front of everybody to make sure people were safe,” Battle explained.

They did not kneel.

But some cops have taken a knee.

Either way, Mayor Battle can support their cause and be a part of it. He can, and does, support the removal of the Confederate memorial on Madison County Courthouse grounds but these protesters still wanted an image of him on his knees.

They got it.

Did he get what he wanted?

Nope.

Tear gas was needed, rocks were thrown, rioters went to another part of the city, and attempted to attack a shopping center.

So it is now performative weakness on Battle’s part. We will see how it plays out at the next scheduled protest in Huntsville on Wednesday.

Nationally, Joe Biden visited a church in Delaware and took this photo:

Now, this is performative wokeness!

Mask on tight, even though it was off earlier in the visit. Biden centered in the photo, down on one knee, while black leaders stand behind him.

It might as well be this episode of “South Park,” where a main character attempts to atone for a racial slur by kissing Jesse Jackson’s backside (it didn’t work).

Joe Biden is doing whatever he needs to win an election, nothing more.

That is performative wokeness.

When it comes to a politician or any other figure being cajoled to take a knee in solidarity with protesters, it can only be a sign of performative wokeness or performative weakness. Those are the only options.

Americans do not want their leaders “taking a knee” to anyone. They want strength and someone who stands tall.

As cities burn and threats to businesses and communities remain, the last thing people want is the appearance of wokeness from their leaders and they definitely don’t want weakness.

That’s what this is.

Whether you like Trump or not, walking out to a burned church after ordering a park cleared of a disruptive element is a statement of power and leadership.

The media hates this. They wanted Trump trapped in the White House while they cheerlead for chaos and carnage.

They all want Trump to look weak, but he is engaging in performative strength.

The question is about what Americans want from leaders.

Americans want more strength, more law and order, less violence and a sense of normalcy.

Trump has to deliver this, not with words and photo ops but in action, too.

Listen:

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

7 hours ago

Jefferson County issues curfew; Most Jeff Co. cities also under curfew

The Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday voted to impose a curfew on the unincorporated portions of its jurisdiction, as most cities within the county are also under curfew.

Following the violence, vandalism and looting that occurred in Birmingham on Sunday night, municipalities in the metropolitan area quickly moved to prepare against potential civil unrest.

WBRC reported that the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County now have a curfew from 7:00 p.m. until to 6:00 a.m. The curfew currently runs through June 9.

This mirrors the curfew of many cities within the county.

Per WBRC, here are current city curfews in the Birmingham metro area:

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Mountain Brook — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Birmingham — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hueytown — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hoover — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Tarrant — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Homewood — 8: 00p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Leeds — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Adamsville — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Gardendale — 7:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Irondale — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.

Hoover has also been dealing in recent days with tense protests, culminating in at least 45 arrests as of Monday, according to The Hoover Sun. A state of emergency has been declared by Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato.

The newspaper reported that Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said that officers had bottles of water, bottles of urine and eggs thrown at them during demonstrations, and one police officer was injured. Two retail stores reportedly had glass doors and/or windows smashed.

The Hoover Sun further reported that Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker made a request on the county’s and multiple area cities’ behalf to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to have the National Guard available to assist any part of the county that may need help in maintaining the peace.

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens and the respective mayors of Hoover, Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills all requested this action, Coker told the newspaper.

This came after Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has given authorization to Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon with the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 1,000 guardsmen, should the need arise in response to violent civil unrest.

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