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Infrastructure

Cable provider wants more access to broadband as schools stay closed, go to E-learning

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that Alabama’s K-12 schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.

“Beginning at the start of school on April 6, 2020, all public K-12 schools shall implement a plan to complete the 2019-2020 school year using alternate methods of instruction as established by the State Superintendent of Education,”

For many wealthier suburban children, this will mean a transition to E-learning. For many poorer and more rural children, they don’t have broadband in their homes.

Some schools already have this in place. Other systems will be scrambling to get compliant with Superintendent Eric Mackey’s directives and parents will have to figure it out once their local schools do.

If your internet connection consists of going to the McDonald’s parking lot (sitting in the dining portion of a restaurant is now illegal due to COVID-19 fears) being a good E-learner will prove to be challenging it if happens at all.

Alabama cable providers want to supply that broadband to unserved and underserved communities. The Alabama Cable and Broadband Association welcomed the news.

“Taking into account the events of the last three weeks, greater reliance on high-speed internet service from our homes has emerged almost overnight,” said ACBA Executive Director Michelle Roth, Executive Director. “Fortunately for many Alabamians, high-speed or ‘broadband’ access already existed in the home. But for many who live in rural areas of the state, and for those who cannot afford broadband service, the spotlight exposed the absence of broadband in homes and small businesses.”

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“Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, Alabama cable providers rolled out no-cost and low-cost options for high-speed internet access to the state’s students and low-income populations hit hardest by closures and other impacts of the virus,” Roth said. “These efforts include offering free broadband and Wi-Fi access for up to 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students, extending low-cost broadband programs, opening Wi-Fi hotspots for public use, eliminating disconnections of internet service for customers having difficulty paying, and increasing internet speeds universally.”

Even prior to the current public health crisis, Alabama’s cable providers had already been planning to invest more than $13 million to bring broadband telecommunications services to rural Alabama citizens who do not yet have high-speed internet services. The investment would be incentivized through $4.67 million in grant funding from the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund (ABAF), a state fund established in 2018 to help extend broadband services to rural Alabamians who do not yet have them.

These ABAF grants can fund up to 35 percent of project costs to extend broadband technology, would enable the full $13 million cable provider broadband investment. These grant-funded projects would be in addition to the ongoing rural broadband investment being made by Alabama’s cable providers, Roth said.

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For the current ABAF grant cycle, the 18 grants applied for by Alabama cable providers cover nearly 8,000 rural Alabama homes and businesses, including 35 community anchor locations such as rural hospitals and libraries. The grants seek to serve the highest number of unserved homes, businesses and community anchor points for the least cost and best level of service. Projects including the highest broadband speeds are emphasized in the evaluation process.

“Alabama’s cable companies have been providing broadband to rural consumers since the late 1990s, and we are proud to continue efforts to expand broadband service in rural areas,” Roth said. “But bringing high-speed, broadband access to Alabama’s rural customers takes more than just cable provider investment. It takes all broadband providers across technology platforms working together for a common good as quickly and efficiently as we can.”

“No stakeholders can say for sure how our economy and society will change as a result of the COVID-19 crisis; however, this much is clear: we must expedite our collective industry efforts to bring broadband to the state’s rural and low-income citizens, so that everyone has a chance at a much brighter future,” Roth said.

While unserved communities is the focus on the state’s broadband efforts, there are also many communities with an obsolescent cable connection that don’t have enough bandwidth and speed to get the most out of the internet.

As of press time, 526 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had already been found and hundreds of COVID-19 diagnosed persons, as well as people who were admitted to the hospital with symptoms that appear to be COVID-19 are filling Alabama’s intensive care wards and many of them are on ventilators. Children’s Hospital already has one of these patients.

Families are being advised to shelter in place for their own protection and so as not to spread the virus to other people. The Mayors of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa have both given orders forbidding nonessential movements. This will be somewhat perplexing for the parent that has to drive miles to a library, Jacks, or McDonalds to access the WIFI for the child to fulfill their public school assignments.

We don’t know yet whether grades and advancing to the next grade or not will be dependent on how a child performs in the remaining eight weeks of distance learning.

COVED-19 has already killed 1,300 Americans, including at least one Alabamian, as of press time and over 84,000 Americans have been confirmed with the disease. Many more are infected and are showing only mild symptoms. Others are waiting on labs to process their test results. A shortage of test kits has also delayed getting many people tested.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

Report: Transitioning to electric vehicles could save Alabama millions in health costs

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama could save $431 million in public health costs per year by 2050, if the state shifted to an electric transportation sector between now and then, according to a new study by the American Lung Association.

Such a transition would reduce other health-related issues, said the organization, which used data on pollution from vehicles and from oil refineries to calculate its findings.

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

The transportation sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution and climate change, said William Barrett, the association’s director of advocacy for clean air and the study’s author.

“We have the technology to transition to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, and by taking that step we can prepare Alabama for the future while also seeing the health and economic benefits forecasted in ‘The Road to Clean Air,’” Barrett said. “Especially as our state faces the impacts of climate change, such as extreme storms, this is a powerful and practical opportunity to take action to improve our economy, our health and our future.”

Trading combustion-powered vehicles for electric ones could result in $11.3 billion in avoided health costs across southern states by mid-century, the report estimated, and prevent roughly 1,000 premature deaths.

Nationally, Americans stand to save $72 billion in health costs and $113 billion in avoided climate change impacts, the ALA said.

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The path to that future depends on leaders factoring public health effects into decisions about transportation, Barrett said.

That involves steps like pursuing electric vehicle fleets when purchasing decisions are being made and supporting the creation of enough charging stations along highways, roads and at truck stops.

Investing in that infrastructure can drive wider economic benefits, Barrett said. He cited California’s increased manufacturing of electric vehicles.

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Tesla is the most well-known producer that has located there, but Barrett said that makers of trucks and buses have also chosen to locate their facilities in the state.

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Infrastructure

Shelby announces more than $15 million in grants for projects in Tuscaloosa, the Wiregrass region

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby on Thursday announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded two grants totaling more than $15 million for infrastructure projects and planning in Tuscaloosa and the Wiregrass region. 

One Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development grant for $15 million is to be used to improve access to the Riverwalk area in West Tuscaloosa and a second grant of $450,000 to the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission is to fund feasibility studies related to transportation projects in the Wiregrass region, according to a press release from Shelby’s office. 

“I am proud to announce that Alabama has been awarded two BUILD grants, one to improve infrastructure investments in Tuscaloosa and a planning grant to assist the Wiregrass region,” Shelby said in a statement. “Both BUILD grants will provide important federal resources that will improve infrastructure and promote increased economic development opportunities in Alabama. I would like to thank Secretary Chao, the Department of Transportation, as well as the local communities for their work on these projects.”

The $15 million grant for Tuscaloosa will be used to make improvements to the Black Warrior River barge mooring, construct a bicycle and pedestrian path and complete a pedestrian bridge. The mooring improvements will allow the abandoned lock structure to be used for the construction of the shared-use path, according to the release. The pedestrian bridge will cross the new Jack Warner Parkway, and the bicycle and pedestrian path will run from the new pedestrian bridge to the existing riverfront park to the east, with lighting and security elements.

The $450,000 grant to the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission will fund the studies of a project that would widen approximately 24 miles of State Route 167 from a two-lane to a four-lane, from the Alabama State Line to U.S. Route 84.

The second project would widen approximately 13 miles of State Route 52, extending a segment from Geneva to Dothan that is currently being widened to State Route 167. Both of these projects could receive construction funding in the future, according to Shelby’s office.

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Infrastructure

Governor announces $1.5 million for local road, bridge projects

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced $1.5 million in state funding being awarded to cities and counties for various local road and bridge projects.

The funding comes in the final award cycle during the inaugural year of the Annual Grant Program, a new program created under the Rebuild Alabama Act. The Rebuild Alabama Act requires ALDOT to establish an annual program setting aside $10 million off the top of the state’s share of new gas tax revenue for local road and bridge projects.

This award cycle added six projects to the 37 projects funded earlier this year, bringing the total amount of state funds during the inaugural year of the Annual Grant Program to $10.2 million, exceeding the amount of state funds required by the Rebuild Alabama Act. A total of $7 million in state funds was awarded in January, and $1.7 million in state funds was awarded in June.

“We are well on our way to rebuilding Alabama’s roads and bridges, and this $1.5 million is a significant step of the process. When I signed the Rebuild Alabama Act into law, I assured the people of Alabama that all areas of our state would see a benefit, and we are delivering on that promise,” Ivey said. “Not only will we see these improvements as we drive on our roads, but we will see a ripple effect in areas like public safety and economic development. Investing in Alabama’s infrastructure is truly an investment in Alabama’s future.” 

In this latest round of funding, the six local governments receiving state funds are providing a total of $705,941 in local matching funds even though matching funds are not required to be eligible for the Annual Grant Program.

It is anticipated that all projects will be under contract by the end of the calendar year after bids are taken.

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Environment

Alabama Power extends summer pool on Lake Martin into fall

Brandon Moseley

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(ALABAMA TOURISM DEPARTMENT)

Last week, Alabama Power announced that it is extending the summer pool on Lake Martin into fall, allowing more boating and recreational opportunities than would be possible if the implementation of the winter drawdown began last Tuesday as scheduled.

Hydro Services manager Jim Crew said that the fall extension is granted because water is plentiful throughout the Tallapoosa and Coosa river basins and conditions are met at Alabama Power dams across the system.

Until Oct. 15, Lake Martin’s water level will remain at 491 feet mean sea level. After that date, the level gradually will be drawn down to 484 feet mean sea level by the third week of November. The seasonal drawdown has several advantages, the most important of which is flood prevention. The winter pool level provides storage space in the reservoir system for spring rains.

At the local level, the lower water allows repairs and improvements to docks that are underwater during the summer. The drawdown also allows more access to the lake bottom during winter cleanup efforts and assists in the control of some invasive weed species along the shoreline as well.

Alexander City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Collari said that extending the summer pool level offers economic benefits to Lake Martin communities that provide services to part-time lake residents and visitors.

“Economically, that’s great news for our community,” Collari said. “The increased lake levels will allow people to continue to enjoy the lake into the fall. We’ve seen already this year what having people here around the lake will do, as that’s reflected in our community sales tax levels. The higher water level will encourage people to spend more time in our communities.”

Alabama Power is licensed to operate Martin Dam and manage the reservoir. The license stipulates Sept. 1 as the drawdown commencement date unless four specific criteria are met, indicating that the system of reservoirs on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers contains enough water to maintain navigation levels downstream.

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The conditional fall extension of the summer pool is new to the licensing terms for Lake Martin. It was not included in license terms of Alabama Power’s earlier licenses, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission added it to the license issued in December 2015 after the lake community overwhelmingly argued for it.

Analysis of data at that time indicated the fall extension could be expected to occur about once every four years; however, this is the third year since the license has been in effect the fall extension has been granted.

Rainfall has been far above average in the Lake Martin area this year. Normal precipitation for the period of January through August is just under 39 inches, but more than 54 inches of rain have fallen in the lake area so far, according to the National Weather Service.

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Alabama Power representatives urge boaters to enjoy the extension of summer safely.

Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their properties.

Manmade lakes across Alabama provide fishing, boating and recreational opportunities to people across Alabama. It also provides habitat for wildlife including ducks, geese, turtles and many other water birds including seagulls.

The lakes provide plenty of cheap, renewable electric power through the hydro-electric dams Alabama Power operates while increasing shoreline habitat and flood control.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes, download the new Smart Lakes app or visit apcshorelines.com. You can call 800-525-3711 for lake condition updates.

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