While Gov. Kay Ivey’s recently approved expanding broadband services into rural places in Alabama, local officials said there are challenges to adding the service in parts of Tallapoosa County.
Tallapoosa County Commission chairman T.C. Coley said the commission has been looking at strategies to improve broadband in the industrial parts of the county but most solutions to broadband issues are solved by the private sector.
“It’s more like a case-by-case basis and usually the solutions have been private sector solutions that have been developed,” Coley said. “That’s what we’ve done in the past. We’ve tried to figure out how we can find a right, private and safe solution. In some cases there haven’t been private sector solutions that meet all of the needs because of cost of certain areas.”
Lake Martin Economic Development Alliance executive director Don McClellan said some industries in Dadeville are struggling with communication due to lack of broadband and one of the companies was paying $7,500 a month for immediate broadband to talk with its company in Korea.
“Fifteen years ago the internet was not what it is now,” McClellan said. “If you look at the industrial companies that we deal with, especially the foreign investors, everything is almost done on a daily business on the computer. Communication with the parent company, communication with the people whom they supply to, most of them are on time within a 45-minute window of delivering parts to the (original equipment manufacturer) so there has to be very close communication with them because they have to (communicate) to the big plant during that window of time.”
Coley said a problem with broadband servicing rural areas is it costs more for companies to service areas where residents or businesses are farther apart than closer in the city.
“Getting the service out there is just the tip of the iceberg in being able to maintain it,” Coley said. “(Having) sustainable revenues and figuring out all the issues out, and I think that’s where the big struggle is going to be for the time to come.”
McClellan said if broadband expands into the rural parts of Tallapoosa County, either the state or federal government would have to cover some part of it.
“Once the infrastructure is there, everybody would like to serve now but you run the fiber, you run all of that to serve an area you got to have a return on your investment,” McClellan said. “That’s been a big problem in the rural areas.”
Coley said broadband impacts quality-of-life issues from students trying to get online for homework to farmers monitoring their products. Real estate companies and businesses are also affected, according to Coley.
“When you have people coming to the area from other parts of the state and other parts of the country, one of the things they’re always asking is, ‘What is the quality of broadband services in the area?’” Coley said. “Just to summarize: There’s real estate, there’s farming, there’s education and whenever you look at where a particular industry may go, there’s always the impact of economic development because companies are always looking at higher speeds for everything from moving massive amounts of data to video conferencing and things of that nature.”
McClellan said he knew about a business that would do most of its work in Dadeville but would have to access internet in Alexander City to send information.
“We’ve seen that all around the (Tallapoosa and Coosa counties) area especially the more rural area,” McClellan said.
While the county commission has not brought up broadband at its meetings, Coley said the group is willing to listen to residents and groups about adding broadband.
“The reality is we, as a governing body, are aware of the ongoing issues of broadband,” Coley said. “A lot of our conversations center around whatever we can do to support broadband access whether through the school systems and also through our efforts to support economic development.”