By: Steve Meany, Chief Executive Officer
Alabama is blessed with tremendous economic development opportunities. Most recently, Remington, Polaris, and Airbus – an ITS client – announced major investments in our state, putting Alabama citizens to work. These facilities are located in areas with reasonable access to power, water, sewer and workforce. Do you think these companies would have picked these locations if no high-speed (fiber) Internet access was available?
According to the Associated Press, 1.7 million Alabamians do not have access to high-speed Internet access. That means 35% of the state’s population does not have the opportunity to experience economic growth resulting from the presence of broadband Internet. Twenty percent of the state’s urban population doesn’t have access, and the stats in rural Alabama are much worse – 56% have no access to fiber or broadband Internet.
I applaud the state legislature and education interests in Alabama for working on legislation to put smart devices, tablets, and computers into the hands of our students. But there is one glaring problem: If a vast number of students do not have access to high-speed Internet access, then homework could become a thing of the past.
Fiber-provided high-speed Internet access is becoming a necessity. Benefits of expanding fiber service in Alabama will include: an improved, lower-cost healthcare system; improved educational opportunities; increased economic development; more jobs; and much more. Of course the question of funding is always on the forefront. How do we provide these services in the underserved areas?
The reality is much of Alabama has access to fiber high-speed Internet access. The problem is the access to the service is very limited. Many of Alabama’s 136 school systems are serviced by fiber based high-speed Internet access. This fiber for the school systems is limited to the schools only and is delivered, in many cases, by local fiber service providers. These local service providers are large companies like AT&T and Charter Communications, and small companies like Camellia Communications, Troy Cable, and others.
The same fiber high-speed Internet access serving schools can be extended out to other entities in Alabama. One of the natural extensions of fiber service serving schools can be extended to city and county governments. City and county governments need these services to improve information security, increase services for constituents, and provide a platform for economic development.
Expanding fiber high-speed Internet access from schools to city and county governments increases the broadband footprint, because more cabling will be laid throughout the community. This path will probably run past an industrial park, hospital, community center, a senior center. Now economic development and industrial recruitment is enabled. Students then have a location for afterschool connectivity and “homework”. Healthcare powered by high-speed Internet access will increase the adoption of applications and new treatment options like telemedicine.
This expansion of the high-speed Internet access infrastructure in city and county governments will begin to lower the overall costs for the service providers, allowing for further expansion into other markets and even the individual homes.
In order to procure these services, local governments will need some level of financial assistance. Thankfully, financial assistance is available from agencies like ADECA, USDA, and many other state and federal grants.
We must soon resolve this issue of high-speed fiber Internet access in order to compete with other states, educate our children, and improve the lives of Alabama’s citizens.