Broadband project takes step forward

Published 5:14 pm Monday, April 29, 2013

Despite the termination of a federal grant, efforts to build a broadband network in eight Alabama counties took a small step forward Thursday.

In a meeting held at Selma City Hall, the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) board of directors voted unanimously to send a request for qualifications to various companies to select “a private partner” to design, fund and build a broadband network in the original eight-county footprint.

Present and voting in favor of the action were Selma Mayor George Evans; David Daniel of the Hayneville Town Council; Charlie King Jr., former Lowndes County Commissioner and current president of the SCABC; Louis Maxwell of the Macon County Commission; and Ricky Powell of the Wilcox County Commission.

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Also present was SCABC Managing Director Dr. Aaron D. McCall, a non-voting member of the board.

“SCABC, No. 1 is alive and well. No. 2, we are committed to transparency and making sure that everything that is being done is being done above board,” McCall said.

In answer to a question from Maxwell, McCall said the SCABC now consists of five member counties including Conecuh, Dallas, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox.

McCall said what the SCABC brings to the table as far as building a broadband project is some $22 million in right-of-way and the ability to acquire land at lower cost.

The SCABC was originally formed to own and manage a broadband communications infrastructure designed to bridge the digital divide in South Central Alabama.

The original project was set to construct 2,200 miles of fiber-optic broadband network in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties.

The funding was to include $59 million in federal grant money and $27 million in matching funds.

While funding to grant recipient Trillion Communications was terminated in October of 2012, the SCABC has continued its efforts to move a broadband project forward.

The goal is to connect all the homes in the eight counties, McCall said.

While McCall said two sources of private funding have been identified, which are “interested” and who look “favorable.” He said the SCABC has got to make sure it follows the law.

“We cannot enter into an agreement with anybody for anything without going through this process,” McCall said.

And he stressed that the SCABC has not entered into an agreement with anyone at this point.

“What we have on the table is workable and doable and can be acceptable to us, but for the citizens in this footprint we want the best deal going,” McCall said.

The next meeting of the SCABC is tentatively set for 10 a.m. May 23 at Mosses Town Hall to be hosted by Mayor Hill.