SCABC secures private funding for broadband project

Published 1:53 pm Friday, November 15, 2013

The South Central Alabama Broadband Commission announced that it has secured a private partner to help it move forward with a broadband project that will serve eight south central Alabama counties.

Despite a “no confidence” resolution recently passed by the Lowndes County Commission, which called for the SCABC to dissolve itself, the SCABC board of directors met at Hayneville Town Hall Thursday to announce a public/private partnership with Oasis Construction Services Inc. of Roswell, Ga.

At the meeting it was reported that Oasis has also partnered with G4S, a design/build/maintenance company.

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The purpose of the partnership with the SCABC is to “design, finance, build and operate the SCABC next generation high-speed broadband network.”

“Without the (Lowndes County Commission’s) support, we’re moving forward because we are not moving forward for the board members of the county,” said Charlie King. Jr., chairman of the SCABC board of directors. “We’re moving forward for the people of the Black Belt counties, not them.”

He said the broadband network is needed in homes and schools.

Robert Harris, chairman of the Lowndes County Commission, who abstained from the “no confidence” resolution, said he feels there is a need for broadband service in Lowndes County.

“Each commissioner has their own thoughts and their own process and their own feelings,” he said. “I really don’t know what (the other commissioners) were thinking or why they thought that way. The only thing I know is that broadband is needed here in Lowndes County. The citizens need it. We need it to help move industrial development forward, as well. And we need it for our school system.”

Majid Zibanejadrad, president of Oasis, said work was underway to fund the new SCABC project.

“We have 85 percent of the funding, but we are working on the other 15,” he said.

Aaron McCall, managing director of the SCABC, confirmed the group is still seeking government funding on the back end of the new project.

“It is really interesting about this project, we are coming back with 85 percent private funding and then on the back end, at some point in time, if we can, we will ask the government to help us come up with the 15 percent that we need,” McCall said.

McCall offered a word of caution to the public.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said. “We are introducing our partners to you today and there is real progress being made. We are now entering into a planning phase. This is not a continuation of the same project. We’ve got the same footprint; we got the same technology, however, we’ve got new players. We felt the need to bring them forth today let our community know that we are not sitting around. We are moving forward with real progress.”

McCall confirmed there is approximately $1.2 million in current liability to the SCABC from the original project.

“It is money owed to the SCABC for the SCABC to pay the vendors that did work for us in anticipation of being paid by the grant,” he said. “And when the grant went away they were not paid.”

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 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 of 2012, the SCABC has continued efforts to move a broadband project forward.

McCall said the SCABC is asking Trillion Communications Corporation to cover the $1.2 million.

He said the SCABC has submitted invoices to Trillion, but that request is still pending.

Attempts to contract Trillion Communications Corporation for a comment were unsuccessful.