SCABC reports new funding for broadband project

Published 10:45 am Thursday, January 31, 2013

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

The South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) is still alive, has restructured its board of directors and has found private funding for a broadband project in the same footprint as the original project for which federal funds were terminated, SCABC officials told the Lowndes County Commission on Monday.

Charlie King Jr., now serving as president of the SCABC board of directors and Dr. Aaron D. McCall, now serving as manager/director, made the report to the Commission’s regular meeting.

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The source of the new funding, however, was not revealed.

The original broadband project was set to construct 2,200 miles of fiber-optic broadband network in eight counties including Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox.

In October of 2012, it was confirmed that a $59 million grant to Trillion Communications from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for an $86 million South Central Alabama Broadband Project in the eight Alabama counties was terminated.

King said Trillion Communications Corporation and A2D came before the commission to present the broadband initiative with the hub to be located in Lowndes County and an anticipated 1,200 jobs throughout eight counties of the project area.

King said with his support, the commission floated a $3.5 million bond, putting the county in debt, but expecting to get its investment back from the broadband network.

He said many meetings were held to try to solve problems, but on Sept. 26, the NTIA terminated the grant.

“When they terminated the funding, they left the SCABC sort of holding the bag. SCABC didn’t get a penny. Our integrity is still intact,” King said.

“Trillion then walked away with $11 million of the federal funding out of the $59 million that was granted to them,” he said.

“The grant funds received covered the costs for equipment and material (65 percent) and contractors, consultants, grant compliance (35 percent),” Ralph C. Brown, CEO of Trillion Communications Corporation said when asked about the $11 million by The Lowndes Signal.

He also said the $11 million figure was “about right.”

King said he and McCall have since traveled all over the country to keep SCABC alive.

“So we finally found a private entity that would put up the money for SCABC,” he said.

He also said SCABC is also looking at FCC, USDA and Farm Bill funding.

King said the SCABC board met and restructured with him as president, Mayor Walter Hill of Mosses as first vice-president, Ricky Powell of the Wilcox County Commission second vice president, David Daniel as secretary, Louis Maxwell, chairman of the Macon County Commission as treasurer and McCall as manager/director.

“We are still going to do what the original plan called for,” McCall told The Lowndes Signal following Monday night’s meeting. “The only difference is, we are going to do it in phases.”

McCall said the original plan was to build a “middle-mile” network with 2,200 miles of fiber optic cable and “last mile” that would be fiber to the home.

He said the new plan is to connect all 75,000 homes to the network. “Our new partners are very interested in this and totally committed to this,” McCall said. “And hopefully within a year’s time, the entire network will be built out.”

He said the first phase would be a wireless phase with the same capacity as the actual fiber with speeds up to one gigabyte. He said the second phase would be cable in the ground.

He explained that the original plan was fiber with a wireless overlay as a backup.

“We’re proceeding with wireless first for two reasons. Number one, it’s quicker and easier to do,” McCall said.  “Then number two is that SCABC feels very responsible for the citizenry of the people in these eight counties being disappointed when the federal government pulled the funding, so we pulled out all stops to make sure we find funding to make sure this network happened.”

McCall said SCABC is still negotiating as a reason for not releasing the source of the private investors.

“But we’ve got far enough for them to say, yes, we are going to do it,” he said.

McCall said did not know the status of SCABC using the Hayneville Plaza. However, he said the plan is to have the hub in Lowndes County if not in Hayneville.

The SCABC is set to meet in the Wilcox County Commission’s Chambers located at 12 Water St. in Camden. at 10 a.m. today, Thursday, Jan. 31.