Residents, officials meet to discuss future of rural broadband
Jun 08, 2012 (The Cullman Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Concerned citizens and local public officials turned out in numbers Thursday, packing the Daystar room at the Cullman Chamber of Commerce, to hear about the future of broadband Internet in rural parts of the county.
It's a topic that was discussed several times before April 27 a year ago, but after the tornadoes it took a backseat to the recovery efforts. However, it's becoming a hot subject among many people once again, especially for Baileyton resident Wendy McKelvey.
"I did have dial up, but it was so bad that it killed several of my computers, so I got rid of it," McKelvey said. "As I see it, there is a possibility I could get broadband, but not where I could afford it. It's going to cost me $60-$70 a month, and living on a low income, that's my electric bill."
The ongoing project to get high-speed Internet to rural parts of Alabama is part of "ConnectingALABAMA." It's a statewide initiative launched in 2008 by former Gov. Bob Riley to promote the deployment and adoption of broadband Internet across the entire state of Alabama. Based on the collective vision and the map of broadband availability, ConnectingALABAMA has created Regional Broadband Action Teams to consider local issues, opportunities and needs, as well as develop region specific broadband deployment and adoption plans to cover all 67 counties. Currently, Cullman is paired with Morgan and Lawrence counties to form Region 11.
Jessica Dent, executive director of the project, presented those in attendance Thursday with the Broadband Investment Plan in the hope of moving one step closer to overcoming the challenge.
"Technology is growing faster than we can keep up with it," Dent said. "If you set the bar low for this area, it's going to stay low. If you accept two or three megabytes as your acceptable speed, that's what you'll be limited to. We've been working on this for three years, and I have to tell you, we've made progress. But it's not just about getting the infrastructure to rural Alabama, it's educating the people as well."
According to Dent, broadband has been considered an essential tool over the past several years, helping many people to engage in many of the economic, educational and social interactions taking place across the state, country, and world. She added that high-speed Internet is transforming the landscape of America more rapidly and more pervasively than earlier infrastructure networks.
"We haven't faced expanding an infrastructure like this since we expanded the telephone, electricity, and water and sewer," Dent said. "The citizens then got involved and said, 'We want to have electricity, we've got to have it.' So, they got together and formed the Co-op. The citizens did it, the government didn't do it. The government helped fund it, but it's the citizens that did it, and it's the same thing here."
Mike Eddy, who serves on the Region 11 infrastructure committee, has heard several stories over the last couple of years since being apart of the group, and said to those who have a lack of broadband, it's almost like not having power.
"We can live with bad roads and things of that nature, but I'm not so sure with the future of our economy that we can live without broadband."
John Thomas, a citizen from the West Point area, hopes that Thursday's meeting will help narrow the issue down so that high speed Internet can soon be available to rural areas, such as his.
"To me, right now, it seems they're doing a lot more talking than anything," Thomas said. "The Internet will be important to everyone pretty soon, so I hope this meeting will help get the ball rolling."
--Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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