Newswire:  Indictments and trials finally come in police shootings of Blacks, minorities

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent @StacyBrownMedia

Amber Geiger and Botham Jean

Recent indictments and convictions suggest a swinging pendulum, and at least some cracks in the “Blue Wall” that all too often conspires to hide details and protect officers guilty of unjust shootings of African Americans and others. Prosecutors in Chicago have won an indictment, alleging that three Windy City police officers conspired to protect a fellow officer after he fatally shot a Black teenager, Laquand McDonald, in 2014. The officers did so in spite of available videotaped evidence of the shooting, prosecutors said. McDonald, who was 17, was armed with a knife when he was shot 16 times. In Dallas, Texas, an officer was indicted last week on murder charges, nearly three months after she shot and killed an unarmed Black man whose apartment she said she entered by mistake, believing it to be her own. Also, in the last week, four Missouri police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the assault of a fellow officer who was working undercover. Officers Dustin Boone, Randy Hays and Christopher Myers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, are accused of beating the undercover officer with a riot baton and tampering with witnesses to cover up the incident. Myers was also charged with destroying evidence and Officer Bailey Colletta was indicted on a charge of providing false statements to a federal grand jury in connection with the incident. According to CNN, the indictment details text messages between Myers and Boone in which they talk about how much fun it will be to beat “the hell out of these s**theads once the sun goes down and no one can tell us” apart. In Chicago, prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said in her opening statement that defendants David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney offered accounts of the deadly incident that conflicted with the video evidence. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. The bench trial is expected to run into next week, according to Reuters. Earlier, a jury found former Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of McDonald. What all of trials instances shares in common beyond the fact that officers are involved, and face prosecution, is that the perpetrators were white officers and the victims are all black males, and with the exception of McDonald, were unarmed when they were injured or killed. “For all the sacrifices and headaches of covering the murder trial of Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke, it was worth it. Finally seeing a police officer led out of the courtroom left me speechless,” said Erick Johnson, who covered that trial for the Chicago Crusader. “Dressed in a black suit, he looked as if he was going to his own funeral. Only I, and a handful of Black clergy and activists in the courtroom were not mourning,” Johnson said, noting that “Silently, we were rejoicing.” The conviction, which led to Van Dyke being marched out of the court in handcuffs, was a day many Blacks in Chicago never thought they would see, said Johnson, who sat in the front row reserved for media and just yards away from Van Dyke. “A white police officer found guilty of killing Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, and locked up immediately after his historic conviction. For Black Chicago, it was the trial of the century, a moment they had been waiting for a long time,” he said. “For this Black journalist, it was history unfolding before my very eyes. It was a story that changed Chicago forever and the climatic ending was about to take place in courtroom 500.” Meanwhile in Dallas, Amber Guyger told fellow officers that she opened fire when Botham Jean appeared in the darkness. Jean, a 26-year-old native of the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, attended college in Arkansas and had been working in Dallas for accounting and consulting firm PwC. Jean’s relatives joined the district attorney for the announcement of murder charges against the disgraced officer. “I truly believe that she inflicted tremendous evil on my son,” Jean’s mother, Allison said after the announcement of the charges, according to ABC News. “He didn’t deserve it. He was seated in his own apartment.” Guyger was arrested on a manslaughter charge three days after the Sept. 6 shooting, prompting criticism that the original charge was too lenient. But Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said at the time that the grand jury could upgrade the charge, which it did last week. “When you look at the facts of this case, we thought that it was murder all along,” Johnson said. After finishing her shift, Guyger told investigators, she returned home in uniform and parked on the fourth floor of her apartment complex’s garage, rather than the third floor, where her unit was located, according to an affidavit prepared by the Texas Rangers. She said she got to what she thought was her apartment — Jean’s was directly above hers — and found the door ajar. She opened it to find a figure standing in the darkness. She said she pulled her gun and fired twice after the person ignored her commands. “The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) for decades has chronicled racially-motivated police murders and brutality against Black America,” said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. “The recent indictments and sentencing of perpetrator police officers across the nation is long overdue. The NNPA will continue to demand an end to these systematic deadly actions and policies,” Chavis said. An analysis by the Associated Press also marked the latest developments in the national conversation on issues of law enforcement and race. A slew of law enforcement officers have faced charges for the shooting deaths of Black people. They include Guyger, Van Dyke, Stockley, and Robert Bates, a white Tulsa, Oklahoma, volunteer sheriff’s deputy who was sentenced in 2016 to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the April 2015 death of Eric Harris, 44, who was unarmed and restrained.

County Commission re-organizes: Tennyson Smith selected as Chair; Roshanda Summerville selected as Vice Chair

Shown L to R: Greene County Commissioners Lester Brown, Allen Turner, Jr., Roshanda Summerville, Tennyson Smith and Corey Cockrell.

 

At the Greene County Commission’s annual organizational meeting, held Wednesday, Nov.14, 2018, Commissioner Tennyson Smith was selected as Chairperson and newly elected Commissioner Roshanda Summerville was selected as Vice Chairperson. Attorney Hank Sanders, who presided over the process, opened the floor for nominations for Chairperson. Commissioner Corey Cockrell nominated Commissioner Allen Turner, Jr. and Commissioner Lester Brown nominated Commissioner Tennyson Smith. Smith received three votes and Turner received 2 votes.

For Vice Chair, Commissioner Turner nominated Commissioner Cockrell and Commissioner Brown nominated Commissioner Summerville. Summerville received four votes and Cockrell received one vote. Following each nomination and vote, Attorney Sanders asked for a motion and second on the selection of officers for the record. Brown moved and Summerville seconded that Smith serve as Chairperson. The vote was again three to two for Smith. Brown moved and Cockrell seconded that Summerville to serve as Vice Chairperson. The vote was four to one for Summerville. The commission approved the second Monday of each month at 6:00 pm as its regular meeting schedule. The Chairperson’s appointment of Commissioners to chair various committees was tabled. The body also agreed to maintain the same designation of bank depositories, with Chairperson Smith and Vice Chairperson Summerville serving as signatories for checks. Smith and CFO Paula Bird will remain as signatories for the safety deposit box. The standard Rules of Procedure were approved. In other business the commission received and approved the finance report and payment of claims as presented by CFO Bird. The following bank balances as of October 18, 2018 were noted: Citizen Trust Bank $2,048,536.88; Merchants & Farmers Bank $4,351,360.62; Bank of New York $358,896.59; Bond Investments $921,428.30. The meeting was adjoined and public comments were invited.

Tennyson Smith defeats Pelt for Commission seat Greene County has high turnout for straight Democratic ticket; Not enough to stem state trend for Republicans

Gov. Kay Ivey and Tennyson Smith

Unofficial vote totals for Tuesday’s General Election show that 4,183 of Greene County’s 7,050 registered voters (59.3%) turned out and voted overwhelming for the straight Democratic ticket. In Greene County, in the Governor’s race, Democratic candidate, Walt Maddox received 3,506 votes (84.1%) to 661 votes (15.1%) for incumbent Republican Kay Ivey. Statewide Ivey received 849,410 (61%) to 562,521 (39%) for Maddox. Ivey becomes Alabama’s second woman Governor and at 74, the oldest elected Governor in the nation. In other statewide contests, the Republican candidates were all successful in their races including: Will Ainsworth for Lieutenant Governor, Steve Marshall for Attorney General, Tom Parker for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, John H. Merrill for Secretary of State, John McMillan for State Treasurer, Jim Ziegler for State Auditor, Rick Pate for Commissioner of Agriculture, Jeremy H. Oden, Public Service Commission, Place 1 and Chris ‘Chip” Beeker Jr., Public Service Commission Place 2. Beeker is a native and resident of Greene County. All seven of Alabama’s incumbent Congresspersons were reelected, including Terri Sewell, who ran unopposed for the 7th District. Sewell is the only Democrat in Alabama’s delegation to Congress. In local Greene County races, Tennyson Smith was reelected County Commissioner in District 2 by a vote of 620 defeating Independent Latoya ‘Mi-Mi’ Pelt with 191 votes. Tennyson Smith will be joining Commissioners Lester ‘Bop’ Brown (District 1), Corey Cockrell (District 3), Allen Turner, Jr. (District 4), and Roshonda Summerville (District 5), who were Democratic nominees from the primary who were unopposed in the General Election. This election also officially confirmed the election of other Greene County office holders who were nominated in the Democratic primary and unopposed in this election. This includes: Eddie Hardaway Jr, Circuit Judge, Veronica Morton-Jones, Circuit Clerk, Rolanda H. Wedgeworth, Judge of Probate, Jonathan ‘Joe” Benison, Sheriff, and Ronald ‘Kent’ Smith, Coroner. Greene County will also be represented by the same legislative delegation including Bobby Singleton, State Senator District 24, A. J. McCampbell, State Representative District No. 71 and Ralph A. Howard, State Representative District 72, who were unopposed and elected in yesterday’s election. All four State Amendments on the ballot were approved statewide by a 60% margin, however in Greene County voters opposed amendments 1, 2 and 4. Amendment 2, which says that Alabamians recognize the rights of the unborn, could lead to the outlawing of abortions and certain contraceptive measures in the future.

Greene County AVFD names Ronald Kent Smith Fire Fighter of the Year

 

 

 

 

AVFD President, Hodges Smith, presents Fire Fighter of the Year Award to Ronald Kent Smith. Mr. Luther ‘Nat’ Winn, with his wife Mrs. Annie Winn, holds Presidential Award presented to him. Shown with Winn are Union Mayor James Gaines; Forkland Mayor Charlie McAlpine; Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele and Alabama State Senator Bobby Singleton. Other Fire Fighter Honorees of 2018 included: Mr. Harper Smith, Knoxville Fire Department; Mr. John A. Hill, Springfield Fire Department; Mr. Allen Turner, Jr., Tishabee Fire Department; Mrs. Severe Strode, Lower Gainesville Road Fire Department; Mrs. Brenda Hardy, Clinton Fire Department and Ronald Kent Smith, Greene County Coroner.

 

Ronald Kent Smith, Greene County Coroner and volunteer fire fighter was honored as Fire Fighter of the Year at the 6th Annual Volunteer Fire Fighters Award Banquet held Friday, October 12, 2018 at the Eutaw Civic Center. Smith has been employed by the Greene County Emergency Medical Service for 17 years and has served as a volunteer fire fighter for 17 years. Other honorees for 2018 included: Evangelist Brenda Hardy who serves as president of the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department, which was organized in 2011; Mr. John A. Hill who has served as a member of the Springfield Volunteer Fire Department since 1994; Mr. Harper Smith who serves with the Knoxville Fire Department; Mrs. Severe Strode who has been a fire fighter with the Lower Gainesville Road Volunteer Fire Department since 1991; and Commissioner Allen Turner, Jr.who has been a member of the Tishabee Volunteer Fire Department since 1995. A special recognition, the Presidential Award, was given to Mr. Luther ‘Nat” Winn, II, for his continuing support of the Greene County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments. Alabama State Senator Bobby Singleton gave remarks and encouraged voters to go to the polls on November 6. Mr. Hodges Smith, President of the Association, brought greetings; Mrs. Geraldine Walton was Mistress of Order for the Awards Banquet; A representative from each fire department also brought greetings; Ms. Felecia Smith was soloist; Mr. Marvin Turner & Impluze Band rendered musical selections.

Ms. Willie E. Austin led the Memorial Tribute to deceased fire fighters. Dinner was served and entertainment was provided by D.J. Birdman of Eutaw.

Greene County Commission recognizes Michael Williams for service

Shown L to R: Commissioners Allen Turner, Jr., Michael Williams and Tennyson Smith

 

At its regular monthly meeting held Tuesday, October 9, 2018, the Greene County Commission acknowledged the dedicated work of out-going Commissioner Michael Williams, representing District 5. Williams was presented a plaque recognizing his four-year term in office. In his brief remarks, Commissioner Williams thanked the community for entrusting him with the duty of representing District 5 and the whole of Greene County. “ I am a native of Greene County who had relocated for a few years, but I came back with a desire to serve our county.

I thank you for giving me that opportunity. I will continue to contribute to the growth of Greene County,” he stated. The commission considered two separate recommendations to fill the expired seat on the county’s Water Authority Board. Commissioner Allen Turner recommended J.B. Washington, but his motion died for lack of a second. That was followed by a motion by Commissioner Williams to appoint James Williams, which failed for lack of a second. The expired seat was held by Mr. Levi Morrow. In other business the commission approved the request from County Engineer, Willie Branch, to purchase three 2019 Mack Dump Trucks. The trucks are scheduled for delivery in September 2019. The commission also took action on the following. * Approved 2019 Severe Weather Resolution giving commission chairman authorization to sign all necessary documents. * Approved engineer’s request to award yearly bids. * Approved finance report, payment of claims and budget amendments as presented by CFO Paula Bird. In her report, CSFO Bird indicated the following bank totals as of September 18, 2018: Citizen Trust Bank – $2,356,329.29; Merchant & Farmers Bank – $4,591,959.38; Bank of New York – $358,093.75; CD Investments – $919,806.21. The commission did not go into executive session since only three commissioners were present.

Newswire : Annual NAACP Convention closes with a Call to Vote

By Lauren Poteat (NNPA Newswire Washington Correspondent)

Thousands of people from across the country gathered in San Antonio, Texas for the 109th Annual NAACP Convention. The daring theme of this year’s convention (“Stop Hate, Vote”) was right on target, given that the 2018 midterm elections are just a few months away.

Panels and breakout sessions also focused on social justice and civil rights in the Trump Era, conversations that NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson deemed “highly necessary.” “As we begin to look at the critical landscape—with the increase in intolerance and hatred—we realize that the 2016 elections resulted in a new level of boldness for racists to display their racism,” Johnson said. “The only way to counter that is to vote…Vote on the midterm elections, so that we can hold elected officials accountable and make sure that they implement positive change.” The convention also included a diverse career fair, educational seminars, workshops on public policy, and a special hip-hop summit. Johnson also spoke about the importance of millennials and their community and political engagement. “Millennials should understand that their role in democracy is the same as everyone else’s,” Johnson said. “We are African Americans first and we owe it to our communities to use all of the tools necessary to better impact our society.” Championing this effort, NAACP Chairman Leon W. Russell shared his own ideas during his annual convention address. “In this new era of xenophobia, neo-Nazism, White nationalism, and current efforts to take our nation back to a darker and more dangerous time, I have come to San Antonio, Texas to say to the NAACP and our allies, ‘the time has come to defeat hate.’” Russell continued: “We call on voters, especially millennials of color, to stand against the face of bigotry and divisiveness.” Acknowledging that nearly 63 million Americans voted for the current president and that Black voter turnout declined, Russell still expressed hope for the future. “Our hope is to vote out the hate and we need everyone to vote,” Russell said. The NAACP also honored Willie Brown, San Francisco’s first Black mayor, with the “Spingarn Medal,” the organization’s most prestigious award; the award was in recognition of his years of civil rights work and dedication to the betterment of the Black community. Former President Bill Clinton presented the award to Brown and paid tribute to the civil rights activist. Brown said that the Spingarn Medal represented his dedication to public service and the community. Dozens of millennials attended this year’s convention, much to the pleasure of former NAACP President and current National Newspaper Publishers Association President Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. “The NAACP is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago,” Dr. Chavis said. “The potential that the organization has with these millennials is even greater. The NAACP literally has the opportunity to embrace these young lives and thus be embraced, to create an even better, bolder organization for the lives of all people.”

Newswire : Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and the NNPA call for Congress to address disparities in Federal ad spending

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor

 

Longtime D.C. delegate Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton said that she would work with the NNPA and the NAHP to pressure Congress to demand greater federal adverting spending with minority-owned publishers. This photo was taken during a congressional panel discussion on judicial diversity on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

Eleanor Holmes Norton

In a blistering response to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that revealed federal agencies spend very little advertising dollars with minority-owned businesses, D.C. Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said that she would work with minority publishers to press her colleagues in Congress “to demand greater spending on minority-owned outlets…to reach minority audiences that most traditional outlets do not.” Holmes Norton said that she requested the GAO report to learn more about the disparities in federal advertising contracts. “[The GAO report] showed, as we expected, that the federal government has a long way to go to ensure equal opportunities for minority-owned news outlets,” Holmes Norton said. “As the nation’s largest advertiser, the federal government has an obligation to provide advertising opportunities to news outlets and media companies owned or published by people of color.” The 41-page report issued, last week, revealed that over the past five fiscal years, federal government agencies spent $5 billion in advertising, but just $327 million of that went to minority-owned businesses. Black-owned businesses netted just $51 million—about $10 million per year over the five years covered in the new report. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association President (NNPA), thanked Holmes Norton for her support. The NNPA is a trade group that represents more than 200 Black-owned media companies and newspapers that reach 20 million readers, combined, in print and online, every week. More than two years ago, Holmes Norton joined members of the NNPA and the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP) for a press conference on Capitol Hill, to demand the report, which was issued last week. Dorothy Leavell, the chairman of the NNPA and publisher of the Crusader newspapers in Chicago and Gary, Ind., called the results of the report shameful. Leavell added that she would call for legislation to address the disparities; she also said that she plans on requesting meetings with members of Congress to further explore the matter. In an interview, last week, Dr. Chavis called on Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus “to forcefully raise their voices of discontent and reaffirmation of the demands for equity, for justice, for fairness and end to this kind of systemic refusal to treat African American-owned and Latino-owned businesses along with others in a just, fair and equitable manner.” Dr. Chavis added that the report exposed the consequences of systemic racial discrimination in both Republican and Democratic administrations when it comes to federal advertising spending. Dr. Chavis continued: “It’s time for all of us to respond and to act. There should be legislation introduced in Congress immediately to rectify this gross systemic inequity This article was originally published at BlackPressUSA.com.

Statewide: Walt Maddox for Governor; Joe Siegelman for AG In Greene County: Sheriff and 4 incumbent commissioners re-elected; Runoff set for Probate Judge and District 5 Commissioner

 

Sheriff Jonathan Joe Benison (1)

Shown above L to R: Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Veronica Morton-Jones and Ronald Kent Smith

In yesterday’s Democratic primary elections, Sheriff Jonathan “Joe” Benison was re-elected to his third four-year term. Benison received 2013 votes (60%) to 681 for Jimmie Benison, 381 for Lorenzo French, and 282 for Beverly Spencer.
In Greene County, the Republican party did not nominate candidates for local offices, so the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election, although these candidates will be officially confirmed as elected after the November 6, General Election.
Veronica Morton-Jones was elected Circuit Clerk of Greene County by a vote of 1911 (60%) to 1290 for her opponent Debra D. Blackmon.
Ronald Kent Smith was re-elected Coroner over Finest Gandy, Jr. by a vote of 1998 to 1186.
In the race for Greene County Probate Judge, there will be a countywide Runoff Election on July 17, 2018, between the top two finishers, Jeremy Rancher with 1091 votes (32.76%) and Rolonda M. Wedgeworth with 813 votes (24.41%). Four other participants in the race: James Carter with 303, John Kennard with 306. Rashon Smith with 518 and Grace Belton Stanford with 299 votes were eliminated.

Four of the incumbent County Commissioners were re-elected. In District 1, Lester ‘Bop” Brown defeated Union Mayor James Gaines, Jr. by 415 to 229 votes. In District 2, Tennyson Smith did not draw any opponents and will be re-elected after the November General Election.
In District 3, Corey Cockrell was chosen over Elzora Fluker by a vote of 609 to 244. In District 4, Allen Turner, Jr. scored 491 votes to defeat John H. Vester with 178 votes.
In District 5, there will be a runoff on July 17 between Marvin Childs 203 votes and Rashonda Summerville with 135 votes. Three other challengers including incumbent Michael Williams with 101, Marvin K. Walton with 77 and Grace Atkins Lavender with 54 votes.
In the contest for State Democratic Executive Committee member for District 72 (Female), in Greene County Carrie B. McFadden had 433, Jerildine Melton 329 and Johnnie Mae Scott with 1052. Including results from Greene, Hale, Perry and Marengo counties, there will be a runoff between Carrie B. McFadden with 3378 and Johnnie Mae Scott 2676. Jerildine Melton finished with 2571, just five votes less than needed for second place.
In the contest for State Democratic Executive Committee for District 72 (Male), in Greene County, Arthur Crawford had 659, James F. May 219 and John Zippert 1222. For the full four county district, there will be a runoff between Arthur Crawford 4216 and James F. May, 2725. John Zippert finished third with 2286 votes.
In statewide races, Greene County set the trend for Walt Maddox and Joe Siegelman to win the Democratic nomination without a runoff. In Greene County, Maddox received 2779 (86.33%) of the votes. The other candidates: Sue Bell Cobb with 159, Christopher Countryman with 37, James C. Fields with 96, Doug ‘New Blue’ Smith 107 and Anthony White 41 votes, did not break 5% of the votes.
In the State Attorney General’s race, Joe Siegelman received 2076 votes (71.81%) to 815 votes (28.19) for Chris Christie in Greene County. For Secretary of State, Heather Milan 1359 defeated Lula Albert with 970 votes in Greene County and also won statewide.
In the Republican Primary in Greene County, there were only 249 votes cast or 6.83 of the total. In the Governor’s race, Kay Ivey led in Greene County with 184 votes (73.9%). She was followed by Tommy Battle with 30 votes, Scott Dawson with 26, Bill Hightower with 8 and Michael McAllister 1.
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Greene County DST Chapter awards $3,000 in scholarships

Delta.jpg

Shown L to R: Shaleah McCain, Hale County High School; Jamia Jackson, Greene County High School; Tony White, Jr., Greene County High School; Eldria Jones, Green County High School and Alexis Jordon, Greene County High School. Not shown: MaKayle Lewis, Greensboro High School.

The Greene County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. held a reception recently honoring the six students awarded $500 scholarships upon their enrollment in postsecondary schools. The scholarship recipients from the sorority’s service are: Shaleah McCain, Hale County High School; Jamia Jackson, Tony White, Jr., Eldria Jones, and Alexis Jordan, all of Greene County High School. Not pictured is Makayla Lewis, of Greensboro High School. The reception, held Monday, May 14, 2018, included Mediation by Jacqueline Allen; Greetings by Chapter President Andrea Perry; Words of Encouragement by Evelyn James. The scholarship recipients and their parents enjoyed refreshments and fellowship with sorority chapter members present.

Sen. Doug Jones gives keynote address UWA holds Rural Technology Summit illuminates high-speed broadband gaps in Alabama Black Belt region

Special to the Democrat by John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

 

Senator Doug Jones and  Shown L to R: Greene County participants in Summit, Lovie Parks Burrell, Debbie Duncan, John Zippert, Phillis Belcher, Beverly Gordan and Johnny Coleman, Jr.

The University of West Alabama in Livingston held an all day ‘Summit on Rural Technology” on Friday, April 13, 2018. The session was attended by 200 political and community leaders from the Alabama Black Belt and surrounding communities.
The session highlighted the importance of high-speed internet connectivity and digital literacy for economic development, health care, education and quality of life for the future in all communities of Alabama. The session illuminated that not all communities, especially rural communities and the Alabama Black Belt area, were prepared and positioned to equitably access to the ‘broadband highways’ of the future.
In his keynote address, Senator Doug Jones of Alabama said “270,000 people in rural parts of Alabama do not have access to high speed internet and there was a need for equal access and opportunity for all zip codes in the state.

Jones said, “ The state’s economy depends on high-speed broadband and this is a bi-partisan issue which transcends the division between political parties.’ He also said that internet access was a key to ending the ‘homework gap’ between well-heeled urban/suburban school districts and rural areas. “Ending the internet access gap will also improve the availability of healthcare and telehealth capabilities in the rural communities of the state,” stated Jones.
Jones reported that $600 million was appropriated in the latest budget for USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) programs to improve broadband access in rural areas. Senator Jones said his staff would be working to help businesses and communities that wanted to take advantage of these programs.
Dr. Roberto Gallardo of the Purdue University Center for Regional Development gave the opening talk on Rural Development in the Digital Age. He said, “Big data will be the oil of the 21st century. The digital economy has a 6.5% share of the total economy or $1.2 trillion. Rural on-line transactions today are $1.4 trillion annually.”
As an example of the exponential growth of the internet economy, Gallardo said, “Airbnb generates an average of $6,700 in income for its members. In four years, it has grown to offer 600,000 rooms. It took Hilton Hotels 93 years to grow to offer 600.000 rooms!”
Gallardo called young people “digital natives” and said they have grown up with digital skills that the rest of us must catch-up and master as well or we will be left behind in the coming ‘digital economy’.
Gallardo said that the digital future was at least 25 megabits of information down and 3 megabits up. Communities without these capabilities would miss out on the benefits of the coming digital economy. “Digital exclusion may be our gravest problem in the future,” said Gallardo.
C. Wayne Hutchens of Alabama A. T. &T spoke on some of the technical innovations that his company was pursuing and testing to bring high speed internet to more people. He spoke about small cell technology to reduce the need for large-scale towers in congested areas. These small cells could be placed on lampposts, mostly in cities. He also said that AT&T’s Project AirGig was testing ‘inductive coupling’ which was a way of transmitting high-speed internet in conjunction with electrical power lines. “If these trials work then we will have a way to serve more rural communities,” said Hutchens.
The Rural Technology Summit also has a panel of Alabama State Legislators that spoke on state funds that will be available for broadband access in rural areas. There was also a panel featuring Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville and Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika on ways they were providing broadband to businesses and residents in their municipalities. Fuller explained that Opelika had a municipally owned electric system which had borrowed $43 million in bonds to finance proving high speed internet anywhere in the city limits of Opelika. This system was serving as an incentive to attract businesses of all kinds to the east Alabama city.
At the end of a challenging day of information, Dr. Tina N. Jones of the University of West Alabama said the summit was the beginning of an effort by the university to reach-out and assist rural communities in west Alabama to benefit from the growing digital economy.