Area broadband project’s fate still unannounced

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2012

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

Still no word has been announced on the fate of the $86 million South Central Alabama Broadband Project to construct 2,200 miles of fiber optic broadband network in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties.

A decision as to whether the project would be terminated or allowed to continue was expected Monday (July 23), according to a letter from the Department of Commerce.

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However, as of Wednesday afternoon, there was still no information on the project.

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

The project has been suspended for evaluation by the U.S. Department of Commerce since February.

The Lowndes County Commission approved a $3.5 million bond issue last June to purchase the Hayneville Plaza, which was appraised at $3.2 million for use by the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) in connection with the project.

According to a Trillion press release dated Sept. 30, 2011, when completed, the network is to be owned and governed on behalf of the counties and cities served by a telecommunications broadband authority, the SCABC, to assure broadband access if available.

At its July 9 regular meeting, on a motion by County Commissioner Dickson Farrior, the county commission voted to take possession of the Hayneville Plaza if the project was terminated July 23.

Commissioners Charlie King Jr. and Marzett Thomas voted “no.”

“I wish that Commissioner Farrior would wait and get the official notice that they are not going to do anything before we do that,” King said on July 9.

At Monday night’s meeting, Commissioner Joseph Barganier asked and was told by King that there has not been a ruling. “I was told that it could be later today or early tomorrow (Tuesday),” King said.

The chief executive officer of Trillion Communications Corps said he is optimistic that the broadband project will go forward.

“The NTIA will decide on July 23rd if it will approve the broadband project to move forward. I am very hopeful that we will be given the go ahead to continue the construction of the fiber network,” Ralph E. Brown, CEO of Trillion said after the July 9 county commission vote.

“Trillion recently submitted its July 5th CAP Response which addresses our ability to advance the project utilizing the capabilities of two outstanding Design/Build firms (G4S and MasTec). Part of our Response included the proposal to de-scope certain segments that will allow us to meet our end of period time commitment. Again, I am optimistic the project will be approved,”  Brown said.

The Signal contacted Brown, Dr. Aaron D. McCall, SCABC executive regional eProgram manager and Heather Phillips, press secretary for NTIA, but was unable to get any information as to the fate of the project.