Commission discusses broadband coverage

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Crenshaw County Commission spent part of Monday’s meeting learning more about Troy Cable and the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission, two entities which have overlapping interests in the county.

Jimmy Copeland, special projects coordinator for Troy Cable, was on hand to discuss the issue with the commission.

“Crenshaw County is the only area where we have overlap,” Copeland said.
Last August, Troy Cable was awarded a $26 million grant through the Southeast Alabama SmartBand project, which would bring increased internet accessibility to Pike, Crenshaw, Coffee and Dale counties.

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Troy Cable must match and provide $7 million of those funds.

Earlier this year, the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) was formed.

That project will have more than $59 million in federal funds and about $27 million in matching funds for a total of $86 million to bring increased internet access to Escambia, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Butler, Wilcox, Lowndes, Dallas and Macon counties.

Copeland said that the two organizations have had discussions but haven’t come to a formal resolution to the problem of both grants including Crenshaw County.

“A memorandum of understanding has been done, but the agreement hasn’t actually been signed,” Copeland said. “Working with other folks isn’t a problem and hasn’t been in the past. On the other hand, the government is not going to pay money for two folks to do the same work in the same town.”

There was also discussion about “last mile” providers, which is a term used to describe the final internet connection from a fiber optic “pipeline” to a home.

“We’re already a last mile provider,” Copeland said. “But our project is in the same boat as SCABC. They’ve got to find a partner to be last-mile. We’ve got one at the table for us, but we can’t exclude others.”

The comment was made that the federal funds deregulates the internet line to some extent.

Previously, the commission signed a resolution allowing SCABC the use of right-of-ways, which could be viewed as an endorsement of SCABC.

“Our perception was that this would come in and provide a service in conjunction [with Troy Cable],” said commissioner Merrill Sport. “We thought we were doing something good for the citizens.”

Commissioner Charlie Sankey said that the information he received from SCABC and from Troy Cable are at odds with each other so far.

“I sat in on a five-hour meeting in Atlanta, and your side of the story and A2D’s side totally contradict how they will tie in,” Sankey said.

A2D is one of the companies partnered with Trillion Communications to form the corporate part of the SCABC.

“What we want is for you to help us, and find out if our signing of a resolution to also support Troy Cable is enough,” Sankey said. “This is a big project with a lot of hands in it, and I’m not sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing.”

One concern was raised about whether the commission had become a member of SCABC by signing the resolution endorsing it and therefore taken over part of the debt of the matching funds for the project.

That matter will be looked into by the commission.

In other business, the commission learned from county engineer Benjie Sanders that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has recently changed the criteria for groundwater, especially relating to landfills.

“They test the water up-site and then down-site, and then measure the increase in constituents from one to the other,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to do an assessment with these new standards, and I’m concerned that could lead to more cost for the county.”

Sanders also said that he is looking into a way to mark bridges in the county that are unsafe for heavy vehicles, including school busses, to cross.

“We need to somehow mark these bridges,” he said. “It’d be a way to get people thinking.”

The commission also heard from EMA director Jessica Tomlin-Seabrook, who spent six days last week in Cordova helping with disaster recovery.

“The education I received will be a great benefit for the county,” she said.

Seabrook also said that the county’s volunteer firemen have been gathering supplies and secured a tractor trailer to Cordova’s displaced fire and police departments.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of a group of people,” she said. “Our county is blessed to have them.”

The commission approved a motion to buy filled gas tanks at storm shelters in Chapel Hill, Pleasant Home, Panola and Danielville.

Those community shelters don’t already have a gas hookup to the generator.