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Alabama telecom CEO testifies on broadband needs

WASHINGTON— Stressing the importance of broadband access to rural areas, the CEO of a North Alabama telecom co-op testified in a U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry  Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy hearing this week. He was invited by Ranking Member Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who chaired the meeting.

Fred Johnson of Rainsville, the CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, urged the senators to continue rural broadband funding through the Farm Bill. FTC is the largest member-owned telecommunications cooperative in Alabama.

“The unprecedented commitment of the U.S. Congress to expand the deployment of broadband, holds great promise for our nation,” Johnson said. “Yet, the task is daunting. There are pitfalls to be avoided. Important lessons, drawn from prior success must not be forgotten.

“The Farm Bill affords you an opportunity to ensure they are not.”

Tuberville (R-Auburn) called reliable broadband throughout the state, especially in rural areas, “vital.”

“In today’s day and age, access to reliable internet service is not a want — it is a need. It’s vital,” he said. “Rural communities cannot compete, much less survive, with urban areas unless they have broadband internet.

“If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that Americans need reliable and fast internet to work, take online classes and complete homework, have virtual meetings through Zoom, and participate in telemedicine.

The senator also noted broadband’s value in farming.

“… our farmers rely on internet access to operate their equipment and operations,” Tuberville said. “The technology of farming is constantly changing, and our producers need resources to remain competitive. Modern farming utilizes precision agriculture technologies, tractors and combines with GPS systems, and irrigation equipment that can be managed remotely from smartphones and tablets. “Without internet access, our farmers cannot farm, and our rural communities will get left behind. In Alabama, 55 out of the 67 counties, are considered rural. Out of the state’s total population, 43.6% live in rural areas.”

Johnson told the senators that their work to support broadband is life-changing.

“I am both grateful, and humbled, to have the opportunity to speak to the United States Senate about broadband deployment,” he said. “The reason is simple. What you do here makes a difference in the lives of the people I serve, and millions like them across our great land.”

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