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Tuberville: Investment in fiber infrastructure, rural broadband access needed for Alabama ‘to move out of the bottom rung in education’

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Wednesday gave an update on his work in Washington, D.C. and some critical issues facing the state of Alabama.

Speaking to reporters on a teleconference, Tuberville first outlined the tours he took last Thursday and Friday of the Wiregrass and Mobile, respectively.

As those visits reflected, the bulk of Tuberville’s priorities right now are closely intertwined with his committee assignments: the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC); Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee (AG); Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee; and Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee.

He also touched on the latest supposed relief bill — which would cost about $1.9 trillion — proposed by the Biden administration that is currently working its way through the congressional process.

“Honestly it’s a mess,” the freshman senator said. He lamented that Democrats are now using the budget reconciliation process to circumvent needing any Republican support in the Senate.

“You know, it’s been a bipartisan workload [since the pandemic began with past COVID-19 relief legislation], but now for some reason the Democrats are refusing to negotiate with Republicans. And they’re trying to ram through this partisan bill,” Tuberville advised.

He then outlined examples of the COVID relief package disguising unrelated items on the Democrats’ “wish list,” including millions of dollars for infrastructure projects in California and New York.

“We need targeted relief,” Tuberville stated. “We need targeted relief that actually goes to the Americans who need it now.”

The Republican decried that after delaying the most recent relief package until December, Democrats now “want to jam this $2 trillion down the throats of the taxpayers of this country.”

“We need targeted relief that will help open this country safely,” he commented. “We need to get the country reopened. Our economy needs it.”

Tuberville expressed appreciation for declining COVID case counts and hospitalizations as well as increasing vaccination numbers, while memorializing the more than 500,000 Americans who have already lost their lives from the virus.

“Now’s not the time to let up, though,” he added after outlining some of the positive recent trends related to the pandemic. “We need to continue wearing masks, keep social distancing, wash your hands — when you’re running the ball well, you keep on running.”

“But if we don’t open the country up to the workers and get students back in school, we’re going to be doing this again in the very near future and passing another stimulus bill,” Tuberville warned. “And we don’t need to be spending more and more of the taxpayers’ money. … The taxpayers can’t afford another massive stimulus bill.”

He focused a significant portion of his subsequent remarks on reopening schools.

“I’m on the HELP Committee — the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — and that’s one of our big topics,” Tuberville said. “The science is clear. Schools can safely reopen without putting teachers and students at risk. I mean, that’s the science. They (Democrats) keep saying, ‘Let’s go by the science.’ Well, there it is. … For some reason, a lot of the schools, especially up north, they’re keeping our kids at home — virtual learning. And that’s not working. We’ve got to get them back in school, learning.”

“Especially students from families and parents who can’t stay at home — they need to go to work,” he continued. “You know, I was a coach and educator and mentor for more than 30 years, and I know firsthand the impact that teachers and mentors have on the lives of young students.”

He lamented reports from across the nation of markedly increased suicide rates among youth during the pandemic.

“Some of my former athletes would not have made it to college football without the strong support of teachers and mentors,” he added. “We’re going to see a huge drop-off [of] kids going to college probably because of less interest. We’ve got to get them away from these computer screens. Our children are losing out … because Democrats keep moving the goal posts. Every time we have something good happen, they keep moving the goal posts. Only 6% of the funds Congress gave K-12 schools in 2020 in these stimulus bills — only 6%, only 6% — has been spent so far. And they want to turn around and give a lot more. Ninety-five percent of the education funds in President Biden’s package that we’re getting ready to look at over the next couple of weeks, 95% will not be spent until 2022. We’re hoping this virus is gone by then. So you can tell, this is not about anything other than just loading up with money — probably to give to the teachers unions. Money is clearly not the issue for reopening. We need to get our kids back in school so they can have a future that they deserve.”

Space Command

Tuberville next addressed the recent announcement that the Department of Defense’s inspector general is investigating the Air Force process that led to Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal being chosen to house the permanent headquarters of Space Command.

The junior senator from Alabama reiterated his stance voiced earlier this week that Redstone was a deserving choice for the important basing decision.

“Our staff — we’ve had several briefings with the Air Force about their decision,” Tuberville shared. “And they confirmed that Alabama, which they already knew, was the best place to have Space Command. Huntsville is the best fit.”

“We knew that because of the change in administrations that it’d be looked at,” he continued. “But it was based on a merit-based decision, and it was looked at from all different directions — low cost of living, good schools and job opportunities — that Huntsville was the best place. So, they’re welcome to review this.”

Tuberville underlined that new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has already publicly backed the Air Force on the matter.

“So, we welcome the decision for them to look at it,” he remarked. “But at the end of the day, I’m confident that they will find the decision is the right one for the future of Space Command and our national security and the American taxpayer. … This wasn’t a political decision. This was a decision based on facts.”

‘One of our biggest obstacles’

One issue that continues to be of paramount importance across Alabama is the access of high-speed, reliable broadband internet service, especially in rural and other underserved areas. Asked by Yellowhammer News, Tuberville talked about his support for investing in broadband infrastructure, especially fiber, across all levels of government.

“That’s probably one of our biggest obstacles, Sean,” Tuberville said of the lack of broadband access in rural Alabama.

“It takes a lot of money to put fiber into some of these rural areas, but we’ve got no choice,” he outlined. “If we’re going to educate our kids and we’re going to move out of the bottom rung in education in the state of Alabama, we have got to get fiber. And there’s a lot of talk about it; I know our governor, Governor Ivey, is on top of this.”

He also explained how this relates to the pandemic and suggested some relief funds should be utilized to address the issue.

“Hopefully, if we spent $2 trillion, you’d think we would have a lot of money going into fiber. Not just in Alabama, but a lot of other states across the country,” Tuberville stated. “You can’t even have virtual learning if you don’t have internet at home. You can’t do it. … [W]e have to have not just a state and local plan, but we have to have a national plan for fiber optics, to get people the internet they need.”

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