By: John Zippert,
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) sponsored an informational and introductory meeting on their Broadband Technical Assistance Program on December 14, 2022, at the Robert H. Young Community Center.
ADECA is working with the Greene County Commission and Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) and CTC Technology and Energy, a well-respected consulting firm, to bring information and initiate a planning process to ensure that broadband is brought to all parts of the county at an affordable price.
Joanne Hovis with CTC Technology explained, “There are substantial resources in the CARES Act, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure bills passed by Congress to extend broadband throughout the nation. $42 billion has already been allocated and $100 billion more will be coming over the next two years. People in Alabama, particularly in underserved rural areas like Greene County, need to be aware and vigilant that these resources are coming and are used wisely to provide broadband to all the people, especially those who have been neglected in the past.”
The CTC Consultants called broadband, ‘the electricity of the 21st century’ meaning that fiber optic connections to the residential level will be needed for work, recreation, education, medical care, home security and many other functions as time goes forward in this century. Digital equity in terms of access and affordability for broadband with greater speeds will be a necessary utility for the future.
The speed of broadband is a critical factor in its future development. Faster speeds will be needed to transmit more complex data, like x-rays for tele-medicine, presentations with pictures and interactive maps, and complex video games played by groups of people.
Currently the FCC definition is 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits per second up. Congress set a new standard of 100/20 megabits in the ARPA and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Alabama has set a 100/100 Mbps standard for future infrastructure funded by the state. Fiber optic connections will be needed for services provided by to meet these standards.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently issued a new map, available on its website, of currently available broadband connections. The ADECA consultants urged local officials to study these maps and make challenges where the maps are incorrect, so the state planning process will be grounded in true data.
The State of Alabama expects to receive more than a $100 million dollars, from Federal sources) over the next two years to work with local communities and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to provide a broadband network, down to the residential level. This will provide broadband services to all people, especially in underserved rural areas, like Greene County with large populations of African American and poor people.
Several representatives of ISP’s were represented at the meeting, including Charter Communications, A. T & T, Eagle Wireless, Meridian Wireless Manufacturing and Tallis Communications, a broadband equipment manufacturer. These ISP’s introduced themselves and said they were working with ADECA to bring broadband to Greene County. Conspicuously absent was any representation from Black Warrior Electric Cooperative. In several parts of the state of Alabama, electrical cooperatives have taken the lead in bringing broadband to their rural residents.
Another aspect of providing broadband services involves making them affordable to people of low and modest incomes. The CTC Consultants said there was an existing Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which provides $30 per month subsidy to assist low-income residents to afford internet services. The program includes support for discounts to acquire devises like tablets, laptop computers and smart phones. 75% of the eligible households in Greene County have yet to enroll in this program. This statistic is also a measure of the current limitation of access to broadband in Greene County.
Unless replenished by increased Federal appropriations, the Affordable Connectivity Program will run out of funding in two years. This of course is right about the time that broadband access is projected for Greene County residents through other programs.
ADECA representatives explained that this was the first of several meetings to prepare for and plan for broadband access in Greene County.
Between this meeting and the next in the Spring of 2023, they recommended that the County officials review the FCC map of broadband access and report any errors and omissions, since these maps will be used to plan future services based on greatest need. Secondly, they suggested a continuing dialog with ISP’s to determine ways to collaborate to insure services to all areas of the county.
ADECA and the consultants also urged officials present to help encourage eligible people to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program, to get the $30 per month subsidy on the cost of broadband. They also suggested that local officials and organizations study the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund for ways to help people get the devices needed to connect to the internet, including services that would lend people tablets and laptops to use to connect to the Internet.
Persons interested in learning more about the Broadband Technical Assistance Program, may contact: Mac Underwood, CFO, Greene County Commission, 205-372-3349; or Phillis Belcher, Executive Director GCIDA at 205-372-9769 org email@example.com.