On Tuesday, July 7, Elmore County hosted a press conference to announce its broadband expansion plan. I was honored to speak along with Elmore County Commission Chair Troy Stubbs, Elmore County Commissioner Bart Mercer, Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and Central Access President/CEO Tom Stackhouse, Elmore County Board of Education Superintendent Richard Dennis, and One Oak Medical Park nurse practitioner Bentley Labriola. Below are some takeaways from the press conference:
- Elmore County Commissioner Bart Mercer expressed the importance of broadband expansion as it impacts residential and industrial development.
- CAEC and Central Access President/CEO Tom Stackhouse agreed with Mercer and shared that bringing broadband to the area is likely to keep some property owners and attract others to move to the community. Stackhouse announced his hope to bring broadband to Elmore County’s neighbor – Coosa County – with help from federal funds. He intends to pursue funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect Program. The new pilot program offers unique federal financing and funding options in the form of loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that don’t currently have enough access to broadband.
- Superintendent Richard Dennis shared that Elmore County Schools faced a considerable challenge when many students had limited to no internet access. The need for internet connectivity became immediately apparent once the pandemic hit.
- One Oak Medical Park nurse practitioner Bentley Labriola explained at the news conference how broadband access to telemedicine is critical because it allows medical professionals to screen patients, decrease exposure, and increase social distancing. Another bonus is that it has helped with the preservation of personal protective equipment.
Sain Associates is excited about its ongoing role in helping the Elmore County Economic Development Authority (ECEDA) and its partners (CAEC, Central Access, Elmore County Commission, and the Elmore County Board of Education) to improve broadband connectivity.
Last year, ECEDA contracted with Sain Associates to conduct a broadband feasibility study. Objectives included defining broadband coverage goals, documenting existing broadband infrastructure and coverage areas, developing short and long-term recommendations, and compiling the information needed to apply for grants and other funding. To apply for grants, organizations must have a handle on existing conditions.
What began as an economic development initiative for Elmore County soon became so much more. I was working from home on March 19th when the state health order was issued, closing Alabama’s K-12 public and private school buildings. The critical news discussion on all the TV channels was about the lack of adequate broadband service throughout Alabama.
This issue would affect students, industries, and families. Within hours this group sprang into action. Their proactive planning was hugely beneficial in the quick preparation of maps that identified existing hotspot locations and assisted in a strategy for additional hotspot locations to serve the community.
Sain Associates is currently working with ECEDA and its partners to develop a prioritized and detailed list of potential broadband projects. The proactive planning by these partners will make a difference in the lives of students and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.