SCABC project suspended

Published 3:38 pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

An $86 million, three-year South Central Alabama Broadband Project has been put on hold.

The project, which spans eight counties, has been suspended for 30 days for evaluation by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Dr. Aaron McCall, executive program manager for the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission, said Trillion Communications has until March 9 to show the project to lay 2,200
miles of fiber optic cable infrastructure for high speed content and communications can be delivered on time.

Trillion Communications is the grant recipient for the project funded by $59 million in National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) grant funds and $27 million from private investors.

The project is designed to provide fiber optic cable infrastructure in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties.

McCall said the project is “under agency review because we are behind schedule.”

He said in August of this year, 67 percent of the project is supposed to be done. He said this is a 36-month shovel ready project, which is supposed to be up and running by Aug. 13, 2013.

However, McCall said, less than 1 percent of the work has been done, including 29 miles of cable in Crenshaw County, laid by Troy Cable, and 20 miles of conduit in Lowndes County, laid by A2D.

McCall said the government gave a “stop work” order “until they could evaluate whether those who are doing the construction (A2D) can bring the project in on time.”

Charlie King Jr., who serves as chairman of the Lowndes County Commission and the SCABC, confirmed during Monday’s regular county commission meeting that the project is being held up.

King said he got notice last week that the project would be suspended for documentation while he was on a NTIA call from Washington, D.C.

“Every Tuesday there is a call from NTIA from Washington with SCABC, A2D and Trillion Communications and they ask for proper documents, and they ask questions, and we provide answers the best we possibly can,” said King. “So everybody is working, jumping in to make sure that this project stays afloat. And I have all the confidence in the world, based upon what they asked for and has been provided to them, that it will work,” King said.

“First let me say how saddened I am that we had to suspend the project until we have worked through the mechanics that created the issue,” said Ralph E. Brown, CEO for Trillion Communications Corporation. “I have all the confidence in the world that we will bring the problem to closure before March 9th and that we will get back on track with the construction effort in the March time frame.”

McCall said the reason the project is behind is because there are a lot of challenges with an ambitious project covering eight counties and 37 municipalities.

He said there were problems with an environmental report that threw the project behind. And he said there were problems getting permits.

“We have out-of-state companies that are doing this work, and unfortunately they are not quite as familiar with doing business in Alabama,” said McCall. He said, “They had hiccups and some stumbles along the way and were not able to get the proper permitting and those kinds of things that needed to have been done before the construction began and continued.”

McCall said A2D, the company responsible for the engineering and construction, is receptive to input from the SCABC and he is “cautiously comfortable” that the project can come in on time.

When asked if A2D is still the company doing the construction, Brown said, “They are still the company doing the construction, but that does not mean going forward they will be the company responsible for construction.”

Lowndes County is in phase one of the broadband project along with Dallas County, said McCall.

He said the project would provide cities, towns and counties high speed Internet; businesses will have the ability to conduct businesses globally; and schools will be able to offer online courses.

While McCall said there is the state run distance learning program, the problem is after students leave school they don’t have access to computers in their homes. He said last mile of the broadband project would allow students to access computers in their homes.