Companies vying for broadband project

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The South Central Alabama Broadband Commission board of directors held a public workshop Thursday to hear proposals from three companies vying to design, build, finance and operate a broadband network in eight South Central Alabama counties.

One of those companies, Oasis said it has the funding to carry the project through.

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

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The original project to construct 2,200 miles of fiber-optic broadband network in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties was to be funded by a  $59-million federal grant and $27 million in matching funds.

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

“We want the community to know that this is a viable project,” said SCABC Managing Director Aaron D. McCall. “And if this project is ever going to happen it’s going to take these type of people to make it happen.”

McCall said the presentations were from the nation’s best.

He also said, “There is an attempt by certain entities in the community to paint the project in a negative light, but we are attempting to show though this meeting and other meetings that we will be having that is an above board and worthy project.”

He said the SCABC played a “minimal role” in the original project for which a federal grant was terminated.

“All of the decisions and everything, the money that was handled under that project was handled by the grantee, which was Trillion,” he said. “SCABC has never been the grantee and for people to try to paint us as if we have done something wrong is very unfortunate. We want people to know that we want to deliver to them what we promised them from the SCABC perspective.”

Companies making proposals Thursday included G4S, Oasis and URS.

David Brenner of G4S said, “One of the keys to success is a need to use the local contractors.”

He said G4S has had many similar projects and experience in funding mechanisms.”

He also called for all of the companies in the room to meet together.

Matt Haupt of URS said, “We give you the entire lifecycle capabilities for operation, everything from design to the planning to the build to end result to the operating and maintaining.”

Alex Edgeworth of B.L. Harbert International with the URS team said “local labor” is what they bring to the table.

Larry J. Morrow of Oasis said he was involved with the original grant submission.

Glenn Wallace of Oasis thanked the board for bringing such an important project to the forefront. He said “Oasis is willing and able to go it alone, but Oasis is willing and able to take on and be partnered with any other partners that you might have.”

Wallace said, “We will promise you today two things… we have the funding to carry this project… you will not have to run all around the place to find an answer to questions … one person will be the project manager.”

Charlie King Jr., chairman of the SCABC board of directors, said the board would discuss all three proposals made to come up with one that is beneficial to the SCABC, which fits the footprint.

McCall he was intrigued by the idea of all the companies getting together to come up with a plan.

He said the board might not be ready to make a decision at its next regular meeting set for Thursday, June 27. But he said at some point in time, a decision would be made.

Josephine McCall, Mary Brumby and Annie Pearl Bolling were among those attending the public workshop.

“I still believe a majority of the people don’t realize what broadband is and how it will affect the community and how the community will grow with it,” Josephine McCall said. “They’re talking about the railway we have and the highway.  We’re bound by (U.S. 80 and Interstate 65) but there is no access like electronic access that broadband will give to the public.”

She said she was impressed if there will be teamwork among the companies vying to be the private partner because there are lots of sources of funding. But she said she did not hear how the project would belong back to the community.

While there are nine voting members on the SCABC board of directors, present for the workshop Thursday were McCall, David Daniel, mayor pro tem of Hayneville, King and Ricky Powell, chairman of the Wilcox County Commission.