Mosses, White Hall join SCABC

Published 5:27 pm Thursday, November 17, 2011

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

The South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) met at the Hayneville Plaza Wednesday to approve new jurisdictional members and to enter into a non-disclosure agreement with HMS Advantage, a business consulting firm.

The SCABC agreed not to take action on the lease of the Hayneville Plaza building with Lowndes County until after the Lowndes County Commission meets on that matter.

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In a nutshell, the South Central Alabama Broadband Project is an $86 million initiative to lay 2,200 miles of fiber optic cable to create a broadband network in eight economically disadvantaged counties.

The funding includes $59 in federal grant funds and $27 million in matching funds from A2D, in-kind contributions and private investment partners.

The eight counties are Butler, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties.

On Wednesday, the SCABC approved Wilcox, Macon and Conecuh counties, as well as the towns and or cities of Castleberry, Tuskegee, Brewton, Selma, Mosses, White Hall and Yellow Bluff as “jurisdictional members.”

Already onboard as jurisdictional members were Fort Deposit, Hayneville and Lowndes County.

Interim Director Robert Wood said an effort is being made to bring all jurisdictional members on board by Dec. 31.

According to Dr. Aaron McCall, who serves as EProgram manager for SCABC, the broadband commission is fully formed and functional. He said SCABC Chairman Charlie King was elected by the SCABC as its chairman and was not named chairman because he was chairman of the Lowndes County Commission.

McCall also explained that the SCABC became necessary because the government said no private entity could own the assets of the federally funded project. The SCABC is a public entity, which will receive and govern the infrastructure.

McCall said all counties and municipalities in the footprint area of the SCABC are franchise members as they have right-of-way where 2,200 miles of fiber optic cable will be laid.

However, he explained, “What SCABC is doing now is ferreting out the degrees of membership of each county, each municipality and their level of participation.” He also explained the three levels of membership available.

“Jurisdictional members are voting members of the SCABC who have a right to make appointments to the board of directors and who provide unfettered access to all telecommunication rights-of-way,” McCall said. “He said they will also have an enhanced revenue share at some point.”

He said franchise members are members by virtue of the fact they are on the right-of-way of the project. Broadband Infrastructure members are second-tier members who provide only right-of-way for broadband communications.

Rusty Schoenfeld, CEO of HMS Advantage and Tom Stroud, company president, appeared before the SCABC on Wednesday.

“I’ve been involved in projects such as this all my life,” Schoenfeld said. “We bring a wealth of knowledge in the telecommunications industry. We’ve work with both mergers and acquisitions of telecommunications companies, building large infrastructures such as what you’re talking about here.”

“We manage a group of networks around the state today,” he said. “We’re excited about what is going on here. I think there is a tremendous opportunity. The state of Alabama is very much in need of putting broadband out to the rural counties that way you can get on the information highway… It is very much a need and very much something that we would be excited in trying to help you move forward on.”

In other actions, the SCABC went into executive session to discuss legal matters and trade secrets, after which it entered into a non-disclosure agreement with HMS Advantage; approved the minutes of its last meeting; and recessed into a work session.

The SCABC work session will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 10:30 a.m. at the office of attorney Tyrone C. Means in Montgomery.

King, David Daniel, secretary/treasurer, Wood, McCall, and attorney Tyrone C. Means attended Wednesday’s meeting. Vice Chairman Fletcher Fountain was absent.