Scan the QR code above to participate in a ten minute survey on broadband access in you community.
On Thursday, June 29, 2023, Stillman College held a meeting on broadband coverage for the campus, west Tuscaloosa area and adjoining counties including Greene, Hale, Pickens, and others. The purpose of the meeting was to gauge the interest of the community in broadband access and the need for digital skills training to make the extension of broadband to more areas accessible and affordable.
Dr. Cynthia Warrick, Stillman President, welcomed the audience to Stinson Auditorium on the campus and announced that Stillman was one of five HBCU’s in Alabama to receive a grant to perfect broadband availability on the immediate campus and surrounding areas. Stillman has received $2.7 million from the government for this purpose. She introduced members of Stillman’s staff who will be working on this imitative.
The five HBCU’s are all located in high poverty urban and rural areas. The colleges beyond Stillman are Tuskegee, Selma University, Miles, and Lawson State Community College.
The State of Alabama is scheduled to receive $1.4 Billion dollars from the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act toward providing broadband services to those who do not have services now, with an emphasis on poor and neglected communities, as required by the statutes.
The meeting was turned over to Dr. Mark Brown, with the Student Freedom Initiative, an organization affiliated with Robert F. Smith, the venture capitalist who paid the student loan de3bt of all 2021 graduates of Morehouse College. Brown explained that his organization was providing technical assistance to the HBCU’s, li8ke Stillman College, who are part of this initiative.
Brown introduced Maureen Neighbors, who is the Chief of the Alabama Digital Expansion Division, part of ADECA that is developing plans for the statewide support of broadband. Neighbors has been to every county in Alabama, including Greene County in February, to explain the broadband initiative. Neighbors said many communities in Alabama that have broadband have 25/3 or 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits up. This will not be adequate for the future. Her program has a goal of 100/20 to assist residential users.
Neighbors said ADECA was still taking a survey to determine the areas of the state with the greatest need and the greatest gaps in Internet services. There is a QR code, which is in this story. if you photograph the QR Code with your cell phone, the ten-minute survey, will come up, on your phone, and you can answer the questions. If lots of people in the Black Belt answer the survey, it may help in placing additional emphasis on serving these underserved areas.
Neighbors says that this means primarily fiber optic connections for each Alabama community to reach the final users. She said the state has received around $2 billion dollars for a job that may take as much as
$6 billion to complete. The private telecommunications companies will be matching the government funds with $2 billion of private monies. This still leaves a gap, which will mean some communities may not get broadband in this first phase of grants.
The state plans deals with the middle mile and the last mile, while the companies will deal with the major national infrastructure for high-speed internet. Neighbors said she was working on a state plan including a ‘digital equity plan” to reach neglected areas like the Alabama Black Belt.
Some representatives of the Hale and Greene County Boards of Education were present at the meeting and expressed concern that rural people in their areas, especially the parents of student had very limited Internet services and needed this help as soon as possible.
John Zippert, Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat said, “Based on history, Greene County and the counties in the Black Belt have been left out of economic development initiatives like broadband and he did not trust ADECA to respond in an equitable manner to the most rural and neglected areas.” Zippert asked Stillman College to consider providing the Black Belt counties with an independent way to monitor and analyze what the ADECA plan for broadband.
For more information contact: RaSheda Workman at Stillman college at email@example.com.