1 year ago

Senate Majority Leader Reed deems broadband expansion ‘a top five issue for Alabama’s future’

State Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) does not mince words when describing the importance of expanding access to broadband in Alabama.

“It is a significant statewide issue,” he told Yellowhammer News during a recent conversation. “I consider it a top five issue for Alabama’s future.”

Calling broadband a “fundamental infrastructure component,” Reed can easily rattle off many of the countless ways in which technology affects the daily lives of Alabamians and, as he says, the things which “make internet access and broadband access across our state a must.”

The need for high-speed internet access “has an impact on every area of our life,” according to Reed.

He points out that the state’s economy has long been the focal point for broadband expansion.

“No business is going to build a $25 million facility in an area that does not have access to high-speed internet, it’s just not going to happen,” he said.

Reed believes the conditions created by the COVID-19 crisis have brought a renewed urgency to the effort.

Healthcare, quality of life elements and education present different challenges now than before the crisis.

“Telemedicine visits are becoming more prevalent,” Reed offered. “This is another opportunity, especially in the midst of the pandemic situation we find ourselves in, to where this is something that’s very important. In my opinion, we are never going to go back to where this is not a routine part of the healthcare delivery system.”

Reed says one quality of life element brought to light during the pandemic is simply the ability to connect and interact with family and friends. He says video conferencing can provide much needed socializing in a time like this.

Education — ‘It is going to be a real challenge to do those online classes from home’

Perhaps the most lasting impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the need for broadband expansion will be in the area of education.

“We now have a situation where our children are being educated at home which adds a whole new dimension to the need for internet access,” Reed said.

Policy discussions at the legislature, according to Reed, often center around the allocation of resources in the area of technology in order to prepare students for the 21st century economy and world.

“We have struggled with the idea of providing tablets or providing technology to students that then once they go home from the school they can’t even use them,” he outlined. “That’s an issue that persisted before the pandemic, but now we find a scenario where the only education opportunities that are out there for our hard-working teachers to provide for students is internet-dependent learning. It is not just K-12 students, either. Our institutions of higher learning have gone completely online. If you are from my district, in Winston County for instance, it is going to be a real challenge to do those online classes from home if you do not have high-speed internet access.”

Approximately 125 miles south of Reed’s state senate district, Elmore County Superintendent of Education Richard Dennis found his school system facing a similar predicament.

Dennis oversees a school system with an enrollment of more than 11,000 students in a county where more than 40% of its citizens live in areas unserved or underserved by high-speed internet.

Elmore County stands as a lesson for both how the state’s broadband grants have succeeded — and for how much further the state has to go to ensure wider access in rural areas.

When confronted with the likelihood of virtual teaching for the remainder of the school year, Dennis purchased 3,500 Chromebooks for students to use during quarantine. And that was only part of the challenge he faced in a county with large gaps in its broadband coverage.

He quickly facilitated a partnership between the board of education, Elmore County Economic Development Authority (ECEDA) and Central Access, the broadband subsidiary of Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.

Out of this partnership grew more than 65 internet hotspots for students to use across Elmore County.

Much of this would not have been possible without previous broadband expansion done by Central Access.

“Central Access is really the backbone right now,” Dennis told Yellowhammer News.

A feasibility study conducted by Sain Associates and Central Access helped the county quickly understand where the hotspots could be established to help students. It also allowed them to set up a website as a resource for parents and students to locate hotspots.

RELATED: State Sen. Scofield: ‘I don’t think anything else could have brought’ broadband more to light than coronavirus

In the long-term, the county now has a better understanding of where the gaps in high-speed internet access exist.

As the county is able to continue receiving awards from the state’s grant program, it is going to have positive effects on Elmore County students, according to Dennis.

“Central Access is going to drive the competition to expand broadband significantly in Elmore County,” he remarked. “What they have done has become the backbone of what we show on that map.”

While identifying several large unserved swaths across his county, Dennis noted Central Access will be integral to building out the county’s network.

“Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, with their backbone group, they’re looking to pursue grants over the next two years in some of these other areas that are really going to force the competition to step up or they’re going to take it away from them,” he said.

Like Reed, Dennis believes the COVID-19 crisis has infused additional intensity into Alabama’s effort to improve its broadband infrastructure.

“This situation is going to drive expanding broadband access to happen much quicker,” he predicted.

Elmore County had an existing virtual program which it was looking to grow at a moderate pace. Now, Dennis aims to merge its use into every school.

The school system has purchased an additional 2,800 Chrome books, which he says will put Elmore County “one-to-one” for K-12.

“As we start the next year, we will begin immediately to integrate the Chromebooks and the platforms that we are using, Edgenuity and Odysseyware, into our curriculums,” he said. “Having our students involved, teaching them how to login in, access and how to manipulate the programs. We are also going to conduct trainings for parents when we have an opportunity to actually bring them in.”

He plans to build off the lessons of the last few months and make it a learning experience for his entire system.

“This is a learning opportunity,” said Dennis. “We’ve been tossed into the deep end of the virtual pool, and we’ve had to learn how to swim, and that’s what we’re doing.”

While he feels confident his system will be trained and ready to learn in an increasingly virtual environment, there is still one big hurdle.

“The big issue then is going to be connectivity in these areas,” explained Dennis. “We are going to be looking to help out with hotspots and whatever else we can do. I think expanding broadband will help everybody, but specifically to education I know it will support us more because we will be able to utilize the tools we have, with the students they will be able utilize it in their homes.”

Funding

Additional funding will be critical to ensuring more Alabama students have access to high-speed internet.

Reed remains confident in the legislature’s ability to meet those needs.

“We pursue all options for funding,” he outlined. “We have resources in the budgets. We have a very aggressive grant program.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) recently proposed allocating some of the federal COVID-19 relief money toward broadband expansion, an approach Reed finds favorable.

“If we can use some of those resources through a methodology that we already have, like the grant program, but we have additional funding there, what does that mean?” Reed offered. “It just means our incentivizing of these companies that are the providers in these markets will ensure they go faster and deeper into these unserved areas. If that’s something that can be a use of these new resources to be able to benefit the people of Alabama long-term, not just in the next year, then I think that’s a smart thing for us to do.”

Reed supports use of the relief money coming from the federal CARES Act to reimburse the state, counties and cities for unexpected COVID-19 expenditures. He also thinks long-term needs should be a consideration in how that money is spent.

“Some of these dollars we want to make sure they would be spent on things that are the gift that keeps on giving,” he said. “The opportunity that continues to be a benefit to the people of Alabama long after I finish being in public service. I think that’s something the legislature and the governor are going to be very interested in doing.”

And he knows of at least one policy initiative meeting that criteria.

“I think a larger, broader, more in-depth broadband network in Alabama is a really positive thing, not only for today, but also for tomorrow and years and years into the future,” he concluded.

RELATED: Alabama’s rural broadband expansion meets resistance

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

5 hours ago

Huntsville City Schools will go on with its vaccination clinic for minors without parental consent

Americans have been bombarded with requests, pleas, shaming and excoriations about how you must get vaccinated.

I bought in, and I think I may have even jumped the line accidentally. I also have a three-year-old, and I don’t envision a scenario where I rush him out to get a vaccine. If he were 14, 18 or 24, I wouldn’t pressure him to get vaccinated. If he were over 18, what could I do?

But if he were 14? That’s a no from me.

Schools in Alabama disagree, and at least one school system doesn’t care what you think.

Madison, Birmingham and Huntsville schools have all taken up the task of vaccinating your kids even though doctors, pharmacies and Wal-Mart have vaccines readily available.

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In the coverage of the Huntsville vaccinations, the Alabama Media Group article specifically states that Huntsville City Schools will not require parental consent for those over 14.

Students under 14 must have a parent or guardian accompany them for the vaccine, according to the announcement on the Huntsville schools website. Everyone receiving the vaccine must present a legal form of identification including a driver’s license, passport, non-drivers ID, or a birth certificate. Participants must sign a consent form prior to receiving the vaccine and must register online in advance to receive the vaccine.

To put it simply — your 14-year-old can decide to take an experimental vaccine without your knowledge.

This is a betrayal of parents by Alabama schools.

They don’t care.

Keep in mind that this is happening as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still looking at the impact of the vaccine on young people.

Even the World Health Organization thinks this is a bad idea.

Some Alabama lawmakers are taking note.

State Senator Sam Givhan appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” and suggested the school systems should hit pause.

Explaining that just vaccinating everyone who shows up without parental consent is just a bad practice, Givhan said, “They don’t have everyone’s full medical history, and they don’t know the unique situations from certain kids. … And I just don’t think the high school should be giving these shots when, you know, you could actually cause someone to have medical problems from this, and then they’ll hide behind their state immunity shield and say you can’t sue them.”

Obviously, it is entirely possible that no children have been vaccinated without parental consent, but how would we know?

Huntsville City Schools seems hell-bent on continuing this. Attempts to speak to the school board we unsuccessful.

The board said in a statement, “We appreciate the invitation. Please see the information below surrounding the vaccine clinic. We have nothing more to add at this time.”

The gist is this: “Sorry, not sorry. We will vaccinate your kids without your permission. What are you going to do about it?”

The answer is people with means are going to either change these schools or flee American schools more than they already have.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

8 hours ago

Guest opinion: ‘For the People Act’ was always a bad idea

For months, we have been inundated with stories of a federal proposal named by the Democrat Party as the “For the People Act.” Upon closer examination of this mammoth piece of legislation, it should be renamed the “From the People Act” because this legislation clearly seeks to take the election process out of the hands of the American people. As a former probate judge, I see this for what it is – a federal attempt to take over our elections in violation of the United States Constitution.

The number of things wrong with this “Act” could fill a novel, but the most troubling aspects of this historical attempt to alter our elections and change the fabric of our nation include:

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Automatic voter registration — The bill mandates that individuals who have interaction with certain government offices would be automatically registered to vote, but there is no mandate in the bill to only limit that registration to American citizens with the right to vote. Therefore, an individual who goes to the DMV for a driver’s license is automatically registered to vote, even if a felony has eliminated their right to vote or if they are not a citizen of the United States. The same holds true for those interacting with other government offices for assistance with a variety of services. Democrats argue that is not the intent of the provision but still refuse to establish any voter eligibility verification requirements in their proposal.

Funding of political campaigns — This act would divert money collected from fines of corporations from the nation’s general budget to a fund that would be specifically earmarked for the funding of political campaigns. This newly created “Freedom From Influence Fund” will serve as the exclusive source of funds for all federal public financing programs of political candidates. The idea that this bill increases funding for political campaigns from our government’s coffers is sickening. Our government has a gargantuan debt but this bill seeks to collect fines and, rather, than devote them to paying down that debt, diverts them to the accounts of political candidates. Absolutely mindboggling.

The list of problems with this proposal goes on and on and, although the proposal appears to be at a dead end now, it will rear its ugly head again. “We the People” must remain aware of attempts, such as these, to undermine our Democracy and we must oppose such measures at every turn.

Wes Allen currently represents Pike and Dale Counties in the State House of Representatives.

11 hours ago

Joia M. Johnson appointed to Regions board of directors

Regions has added Joia M. Johnson to its board of directors, according to a release from the company.

Johnson will serve on the boards of Regions Financial Corp. and its subsidiary, Regions Bank, beginning on July 20.

She arrives at her new responsibilities having recently retired as chief administrative officer, general counsel and corporate secretary for Hanesbrands Inc., a leading apparel manufacturer and marketer.

Charles McCrary, chairman of the Regions Financial Corp. and Regions Bank Boards, believes Johnson’s experience will be a valuable addition to the board.

“Joia’s leadership experience, both at the corporate level and in various board roles, will add greater depth and insights to the Regions Board of Directors as we advance policies and strategies to benefit our customers, associates, communities, and shareholders,” McCrary explained.

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Johnson added that she sees that experience as an asset in assisting the company achieve its vision for growth.

“I believe the breadth of my corporate experience and civic engagement will complement the additional experience and skills reflected throughout Regions’ current directors,” she stated. “As the company focuses not just on continuous improvement but also on long-term, sustainable growth, I am thrilled to become a part of building on Regions’ history of success – while also defining a very bright future for the organization and the people and communities we serve.”

McCrary also noted the alignment between Johnson’s unique skill set and the company’s mission.

“The Regions mission is to make life better for the people we serve, and we accomplish that mission by creating shared value for all of our stakeholders,” he remarked. “With her passion for strong governance and strategic community engagement, Joia will help us build on our progress and reach new heights in the years to come.”

After receiving an undergraduate degree from Duke University, Johnson earned a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

Johnson’s financial services experience includes on the board of Global Payments Inc., a Fortune 500 payments technology company and eight years as a board member for Crawford & Company, which specializes in insurance claims administration.

Upon her installment, Johnson will serve on Regions’ 13-member board which will consist of 12 independent outside directors.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

12 hours ago

State Rep. Oliver: Combatting Critical Race Theory in Alabama is ‘the way we stand up to woke-ism’

Republicans have made taking on so-called Critical Race Theory a priority in recent weeks claiming such philosophies are an effort to undermine cultural norms and indoctrinate in a way that benefits the Democratic Party.

Florida, Arkansas, Idaho and Oklahoma have banned the theory from their public school classrooms. Many would like to see Alabama follow suit, and there have been bills filed for the legislature’s 2022 regular session to do as much. One of those bills is being brought by State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), who takes it beyond the classroom and applies restrictions throughout state government.

Oliver discussed the bill during Tuesday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show” on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5.

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“[I]’ve got a bill that’s fairly unique, and we expect it to go through the state government committee,” he said. “My bill actually covers any state agency, its contractors and subcontractors, to include schools. We felt like it was important to address this issue with a holistic approach.”

“The first thing is deciding what you don’t want taught,” Oliver continued. “That’s the most important piece. And I would like to say, this bill, it absolutely describes what we don’t want taught — it doesn’t mean that you can’t teach inclusion or diversity. It means you can’t teach some things as fact and then we’re not going to teach our kids that one sex or race is better than another. And in a nutshell, that is the crux of it.”

The Tallapoosa County lawmaker said his effort could serve as a bulwark against a creeping effort to indoctrinate.

“[I]t’s the way we stand up to woke-ism,” Oliver declared. “If we’re ever going to draw a line in the sand, Critical Race Theory is it. I say that not because I’m the smartest guy in the world or this is something I’ve thought all my life, but I’ve got a child that goes to a major university in the state. And I am absolutely appalled by what I’ve witnessed there the last three years with my child. If you don’t think universities are indoctrinating your kids, everybody needs to wake up.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

12 hours ago

Manufacture Alabama backs Ainsworth for reelection

As Alabama maintains its status among the top states in the nation for manufacturing, the industry’s dedicated trade association has made its choice for lieutenant governor.

Manufacture Alabama has given its full support to Will Ainsworth in his bid for reelection to the office, according to a release from the group.

George Clark, president of Manufacture Alabama, cited Ainsworth’s background in manufacturing and knowledge of its key issues in announcing the endorsement.

“Manufacture Alabama is endorsing Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth for reelection due to his commitment to maintaining a business-friendly environment in Alabama,” Clark said. “Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth grew up in the manufacturing industry and understands firsthand that our members are the backbone of the state and nation’s economy. He is a friend to our association and a tireless advocate for manufacturers across Alabama. In his leadership role, it is clear that he is dedicated to serving his home state with enthusiasm and integrity. We are proud to give him our full endorsement for the reelection of Lieutenant Governor.”

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Ainsworth, who has now picked up a string of endorsements from trade associations, believes the state’s successes in manufacturing are something that can continue.

“I am proud to have the endorsement of Manufacture Alabama,” he stated. “Our tremendous manufacturers are sources of good-paying 21st century jobs for hardworking Alabamians, and the goods and materials they produce are integral across a broad range of sectors. Alabama is open for business, and I’m firmly committed to making our state the workforce engine of the Southeast so we can continue to grow jobs through expansion and recruitment. Working together, I am confident we will build an even stronger Alabama for our children and our children’s children.”

The manufacturing industry employs more than 250,000 people in Alabama, a figure which makes up a double-digit percentage of the state’s workforce.

Ainsworth announced his reelection campaign earlier this month.

Since that time, he has received the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association, the Petroleum and Convenience Marketers Association and U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

RELATED: Lt. Gov. Ainsworth: Huntsville preferred location for Space Command ‘based on merit and based on policies’

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia