By HU MEENA, C Spire CEO
After wrestling with a public health emergency over the past months, Alabama consumers and businesses have learned that good, high quality and fast broadband internet is a necessity, not a luxury.
The need for a comprehensive statewide plan to provide high-speed, fiber-fed broadband internet connectivity to every Alabamian has never been more evident.
As hundreds of thousands of the state’s schoolchildren and their parents grapple with adapting to online learning during the current COVID-19 pandemic, many struggle with limited choices or slow and non-existent service. Some rural Alabama school systems have even been forced to deploy school buses to provide mobile wi-fi hotspots for students.
Business owners and employees have encountered similar frustrations as they transition to remote work at home. Slow speeds or non-existent connectivity cause diminished productivity.
Alabama’s economic future depends on solving this digital divide and making sure all Alabamians have access to all-fiber broadband access, which offers the fastest upload and download speeds, best reliability and accurate, quick transfer of data.
Quickly downloading a video or streaming a movie is no longer good enough. Success now increasingly depends on how quickly and smoothly you can upload to the internet your work, your presentations, even yourself as you engage and participate in online classes and video meetings.
Unfortunately, Alabama has already fallen behind when it comes to needed broadband infrastructure. That’s why only 21 percent of Alabamians have access to all-fiber home services. Compare that to Mississippi, where more than 40 percent of residents have access to all-fiber home services, and to Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, where approximately 35 percent of residents have access.
Fortunately, many Alabama leaders understand the urgency of this critical infrastructure and public policy issue and are working together to make needed changes.
At the national level, Congressman Robert Aderholt spearheaded the creation of the national ReConnect Program, which helps deliver broadband infrastructure to rural America.
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $18.5 million from the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund – which was created by the Alabama Legislature – to extend high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved areas. The Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition, which is comprised of community, business and government leaders, is also making access to fast and reliable internet a priority.
But there’s only so much broadband grants can do. Alabama still ranks 38th nationally in broadband access, so clearly more needs to be done.
C Spire is here to do its part by investing in Alabama and its communities. We’re committed to building the highly reliable fiber optic network that will provide Alabama’s homes, hospitals, schools and businesses with the very best broadband service.
For more than 30 years, C Spire has been investing in communities to deliver unmatched internet capacity. We are the 11th-largest residential fiber-optic provider in the U.S. and have built the nation’s largest fiber-to-home network in neighboring Mississippi. This year, we are deploying our ultra-fast, next-generation Gigabit speed broadband internet services to homes and businesses in Jasper and Trussville, and we’re investing in more Alabama communities next year and beyond.
At C Spire, we believe this technology is truly a game changer. It not only propels communities forward, it transforms them, bringing advancements in education, health care, and economic expansion.
Especially in this time of the continuing pandemic, deploying these new advancements as quickly as possible is essential.
When employees log on for virtual meetings and video conferences from home or students must go online to learn, a high-quality all-fiber connection guarantees reliability.
When patients need to speak with their doctors remotely, enhanced internet connectivity provides sometimes life-saving telemedicine services, especially to those in rural areas.
When local communities work to recruit new businesses and the jobs they bring, good, reliable and fast internet is essential.
This is why Alabama leaders must work together to create a comprehensive plan that enables access to an all-fiber connection in every home – from Dothan to Double Springs and Fort Payne to Foley. Piecemeal efforts that target one underserved area over another underserved area are not getting the job done. Every Alabamian, regardless of the size of the town they live in, needs access to a reliable and fast internet connection that is always on and always available.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped expose the deep and growing rift between the broadband haves and the have-nots. We ended up in this untenable situation because we’ve allowed broadband access to become a patchwork of infrastructure and services. There has been no strategic, comprehensive plan to ensure every Alabamian can access a reliable and swift internet connection.
Alabama’s policymakers should be commended for the steps they have already taken to increase broadband access. Now is the time, however, for elected leaders on both sides of the aisle to create a plan that delivers high-speed broadband – and its vast array of benefits – to every community in Alabama.
Hu Meena is CEO of C Spire, a privately-held telecommunications and technology company driven to deliver the best experiences in wireless, fiber internet, and business IT solutions such as internet, VoIP, cloud and managed services. For more information, visit cspire.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.