Tag: "alabama"

Posted November 9, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As voters went to the polls yesterday, broadband-focused initiatives and candidates could be found up and down the ballot all across the country.

Alabama

Alabama voters cast their ballots to decide on a state Constitutional amendment known as the Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment. The measure sought to amend the state's constitution "to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and award such funds to public or private entities."

That measure passed, garnering a “Yes” vote from nearly 80 percent of Alabama voters. With 73 percent of the vote counted late last night, 922,145 “Yes” votes had been tallied with 251,441 “No” votes.

Also in Alabama, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell won her re-election bid to represent Alabama’s 7th congressional district. Sewell, whose district covers a large swath of the Alabama Black Belt, “spent much of her past two years in office bringing American Rescue Plan Act funds to rural Alabama, dedicated to healthcare, broadband access and infrastructure building,” as noted by The Montgomery Advertiser.

Colorado

The Centennial State is not listed as one of 17 states in the nation with preemption laws that erect barriers to municipal broadband because nearly every community that had a vote has passed it to nullify it. But more communities had to go through that unnecessary process yesterday due to the law known as SB-152 that bans local governments in the state from establishing municipal broadband service absent a referendum.

As of spring 2022, 118 Colorado municipalities, 40 counties and several school districts have...

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Posted October 24, 2022 by Karl Bode

Alabama and New Mexico voters will soon be given the midterm option of changing their state constitutions to help boost broadband funding and deployment, albeit in notably different ways. 

In Alabama, voters will head to the polls on November 8th to vote on a Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment that would amend the state's constitution "to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and award such funds to public or private entities."

County leaders have spent much of this year warning that Section 94 of the Alabama Constitution bans the state from granting public money or “things of value” to local governments for public and private use. That’s a significant problem when it comes to the $276 million in ARPA funds Alabama Governor Kay Ivey earmarked for broadband expansion last March.

Programs such as the USDA’s ReConnect and the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) haven’t run afoul of the Alabama Constitution because they both involve the federal government directly doling out funds for broadband expansion. But ARPA funding allows local municipalities to distribute a portion of state-allocated funds.

“The legislature shall not have power to authorize any county, city, town, or other subdivision of this state to lend its credit, or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association, or corporation whatsoever, or to become a stockholder in any such corporation, association, or company, by issuing bonds or otherwise,” the Constitution reads.

Modifying the state's constitution requires a three-fifths vote by the Alabama state legislature and a public vote. If approved on November 8, the Alabama constitution will be amended to read:

The state, a county, or a municipality is authorized to...

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Posted January 14, 2022 by Emma Gautier

In June of 2020, Cullman Electric Cooperative launched Sprout Fiber Internet, a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to bring broadband access to its members in rural Alabama. Sprout Fiber has taken significant strides since then, connecting its 1,300th subscriber in October of 2021.   

By July of 2020, Sprout Fiber had started the first phase of network construction, with plans to connect 25 percent of Cullman’s membership – or 12,000 households – by spring of 2022. Sprout’s first customer was connected in January 2021. By the following September, Sprout was serving “over 1,000 broadband customers and handling about 12 activations per day,” with a little under half of its Phase I deployment finished. This puts its take rate around 20 percent in less than a year. By November, Sprout Fiber had completed a fiber ring backbone to connect its offices and substations.

Expanding Access and Choices

Local competition includes AT&T and Charter Spectrum, which offer service to the town of Cullman itself but not to its surrounding areas. Several wireless and satellite providers also offer service locally. There is significant demand for Sprout Fiber’s service, however, including from members in gap areas that don’t have other options for high-speed Internet access. According to Sprout Fiber, “twenty-five percent of [its] service territory still does not have any access to [the] Internet, and other areas do not have access to a quality Internet connection.”  

Guided by member demand and targeting areas without existing robust broadband infrastructure, Sprout Fiber plans to expand broadband service into ten new areas and to 9,000 additional members in 2022 (see map below, with green areas live right now, with pink scheduled to go live early in 2022 and purple to follow thereafter. For a high-resolution version of the map, click here). Cullman Electric CEO Tim Culpepper told members: 

“Our ultimate goal is...

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Posted August 3, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

There are more than 600 wireline municipal broadband networks operating across the United States today. And while the ongoing discussion about our information infrastructure by Congress has placed a renewed emphasis on publicly owned endeavors to improving Internet access, the reality is that cities around the country have been successfully demonstrating the wide variety of successful approaches for decades.

In this report, published by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, ILSR's Sean Gonsalves, Christopher Mitchell, and Jericho Casper profile how six community networks in a diverse range of places stepped up to meet the needs of their communities, bringing faster, more reliable, and more affordable service. 

It covers:

  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Conway, Arkansas
  • Ocala, Florida
  • Dalton, Georgia
  • Ammon, Idaho
  • Cheshire County, New Hampshire

The projects above, the report shows, run the gamut from municipally owned and operated fiber networks, to cable system upgrades, to last-mile open access networks, to public-private partnerships.

From Benton:

Communities seeking to create a more competitive broadband market and/or target low-income neighborhoods with high-quality, modestly priced service are increasingly building their own networks, whether in partnership with ISPs or on their own. Local governments considering this option have to do their homework to find appropriate consultants, vendors, business models, and more.

But as the communities profiled here demonstrate, there are many models and opportunities to improve Internet access.

This report offers a preview of a large compendium of case studies  - to be published by Benton later this summer - showing how dozens of community networks have brought thoughtful investment and better Internet access to communities all around the country.  "While including explorations of some of the networks that have struggled," the report "concentrates on the vast majority of community-led broadband networks which have succeeded, providing robust service where it had...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

The winners of the Truist EPIC grant program, which we wrote about earlier this year, have been announced.

47 projects applied for the funds. Innovative, community-centered projects in Florida and Alabama will be taking home money. So too is Wilson, North Carolina for an expansion of its municipal network, Greenlight. The awards will be distributed by the Internet Society:

Five recipients will share $1 million in grant funding to expand broadband access in their communities as part of the Truist Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant. The grant program supports broadband initiatives to help alleviate disparities in education, employment and social welfare in the Southeastern United States.

The grants are "directed toward supporting community networks built, owned and operated by local governments and organizations." 

The full list includes:

  • The Duval County Public Schools will receive $180,000 for Project OVERCOME21, a plan to turn schools in the Florida district into local broadband hubs for the surrounding community. The hubs boost signals to a three-mile radius and connect to the school district’s existing network.
  • The Tuskegee Housing Authority will receive nearly $180,000 for its Jesup “Cyber Wagon” Project in Tuskegee, Ala. The project will provide broadband access to low-income, Black communities where a lack of Internet has hindered access to health, education and other services.
  • The City of Wilson, N.C., has been granted nearly $180,000 to expand North Carolina’s Community Broadband fiber-to-the-home into a rural, majority Black community in Wilson County.
  • The City of Williston, Fla., will receive $108,000 for its broadband program, COWLink, to support efforts to improve access and speed of broadband for local businesses, schools and homes.
  • Wave 7 Communications will receive more than $150,000 to connect residents of Enfield, N.C. and outlying rural areas, train digital stewards and provide online learning to residents.

In a press release, Internet Society Regional Vice President for...

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Posted May 27, 2021 by Maren Machles

Fifteen years ago, Covington Electric Cooperative (CEC) was the first in the southeast region of Alabama to bring its members online with dial-up Internet access. And while it has since left the broadband business, it announced at the beginning of April it plans to come back in a big way, connecting all of its members once again through its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, Buzz Broadband. 

Buzz Broadband is a new subsidiary that will provide FTTH broadband service to members across its six-county territory and more than 23,000 households. CEC chose the name, because “like the mighty bee, high-speed broadband is a force to be reckoned with. Having fast and reliable access to such technology takes the sting out of meeting deadlines, virtual learning, working from home and running a business.”

CEC started building out the backbone in January and is on track to finish by the end of this month, with the first members coming online this fall. According to CEC’s 2021 Annual Report, “expansion to all CEC members will be done in phases and will take a few years to be complete.”

Initially, the FTTH build out was supposed to take four years, but with all the enthusiasm around the network, Short asked the board if CEC could fast track the build out to two years. He said that’s what they are aiming for, and when Buzz Broadband was announced, it was made clear that the board is “committed to making high-speed fiber broadband access available to every CEC member by 2025, if not sooner.”

“We’re on track to invest $65 to $70 million in two years, where our electric plan was only $180 million give or take, and it took us 77 years to get to that point,” Short said. “It’s quite an accelerated cash flow.”

Overwhelming Support

CEC was formed in 1944, in response to the Rural Electrification Administration offering long-term, low-interest loans to finance the electrification of rural America. When no one else would bring service to the surrounding area, CEC was born. Today, it has 2,700 miles of electrical power lines spread across six counties, Covington, Coffee, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, and Escambia. It is headquartered in...

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Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide

Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access

Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum

The State Scene

North Carolina 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide. 

Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:

  • $600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”

  • $420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.

  • $165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.

The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years. 

Although some of North Carolina’s...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Talladega, AL has long been known as the epicenter of NASCAR, a sport synonymous with speed. In 1987, Bill Elliot set the fastest recorded time of 212.089 mph on that very track. 

Cars aren’t expected to start racing down the Talladega Superspeedway track until late April, but the Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) chose the location to announce the fittingly super fast speeds it expects to begin serving up with its new broadband subsidiary, Coosa Valley Technologies, last Wednesday. 

Unfortunately, many residents in Talladega County and surrounding counties have long gone without fast connectivity, with average speeds as low as 5 Mbps (Megabits per second)

CVEC often holds events at the Superspeedway, but for this event they wanted to make sure that since people were gathering, social distancing was possible. Also they wanted to communicate a message.

“It also served as a good backdrop for what we were trying to communicate, which was, we’re going to be provided the fastest broadband service in our area,” Jon Cullimore, CVEC Manager of Marketing and Member Services, told us in an interview as the cooperative prepares to embark on a fiber build intended to bring fast, affordable Internet access to everyone in its electric footprint over the next four years.

Driven by Membership

It all started in 2019 with feasibility studies conducted by two different firms. Both found a profound lack of broadband service throughout CVEC’s service territory, which is situated east of Birmingham.

When the studies were completed, CVEC quickly put together a comprehensive information packet for members to get educated before their annual meeting last September. The members were asked to vote on whether or not CVEC should form a new broadband subsidiary and embark on a new phase of life.

“We got the word out, and we had a record attendance at our annual meeting. We’ve never had that many members show up before,” Cullimore said. “I think we only had 12 ‘no’ votes out of all the [more than] one thousand people that showed up.”  

CVEC quickly got to work...

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Posted March 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

A California ballot initiative would empower voters to build their own Internet access solutions.

The Oklahoma House sends seven broadband bills to Senate.

New York and North Carolina initiate statewide digital inclusion programs.

Virginia is second state to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. 

See the bottom of this post for some broadband-related job openings. 

The State Scene 

California Legislation Could Lead To Massive Investments in Public Broadband

As lawmakers in the Golden State look to rectify a reputation of having one of the highest student populations without Internet connectivity, bills aiming to expand access to 98 percent of California households by increasing investments in public broadband infrastructure were launched early in California’s legislative session.

Though there are several other bills pertaining to broadband that have been introduced in Sacramento, we focus on these four because, if passed, they would have the biggest impact on municipal networks.

S.B. 4, sponsored by State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-33, would create a new state-backed bond program, enabling local governments to finance more than $1 billion in public infrastructure projects through bond issuances. The low-interest debt for the projects could be repaid over multiple decades. 

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently reported, “California’s current law (known as the California Advanced Services Fund or CASF) has failed to meet the digital divide challenge. It discriminates against local community bidders to build broadband infrastructure, favors spending state money on slow...

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Posted March 5, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

The Talladega Superspeedway isn’t the only place in Alabama showcasing blazing fast speeds. A little more than an hour north of the famed NASCAR venue, the Cullman Electric Cooperative is racing to build a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, bringing gig-speed Internet connectivity to the cooperative’s 44,000 member-owners spread out across Cullman, Winston, Morgan, and Lawrence counties in the north-central part of the state.

In June 2020, Cullman Electric Co-op officials waved the green flag, announcing the start of network construction for Sprout Fiber Internet. Seven months later, having hung 120 miles of the mainline fiber ring, Sprout Fiber’s first paying customer went online in Berlin, the first town in the cooperative’s service area to be connected to the fiber network.

“This truly is a historic moment, much like when the first residents in the region received electricity. This technology carries the same potential to improve the quality of life for our members,” Cullman Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Culpepper told The Cullman Times as the 85-year-old electric cooperative began connecting customers with a need for high-speed Internet service.

‘Crazy Fast’ Game Changer

Alabama State Representative Randall Shedd (R-Fairburn), who helped advance legislation allowing electric cooperatives to provide Internet services to its members, called Sprout Fiber “a game changer for our area, economically.”

At a cost of about $18 million, Phase I of construction will provide access to the network for 12,000 co-op members living in the Berlin, Eva Road, Fairview, and Holly Pond areas. Coming out the gate by connecting four customers a day and then ramping up to 40 customers per week, final installation for all customers in the Phase I area is slated to be...

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