EDITORS NOTE: AT&T has reached out to The Times to state AT&T did not object to Cyber Broadband Inc.'s request.
Cullman County is one of seven Alabama counties receiving $2.9 million in grants to upgrade high-speed broadband internet services.
The grants were awarded through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, which was created by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. It was created to assist broadband providers in extending high-speed internet service for households, businesses and community anchors in unserved areas of the state or in areas lacking minimum threshold service. A community anchor is an establishment like a police or fire department, city hall, library, school or medical facility.
Cullman County's Cyber Broadband Inc. received $1.33 million to provide service availability to 1,600 households, 125 businesses and 50 community anchors in the vicinity of Baileyton and Joppa.
In a May interview with The Times, Jay Fuller, CEO and owner Cyber Broadband said his company's original request filed at the end of 2019 was denied because two other telecommunications companies objected to the project going into territory they say they already provide service to. The companies are not identified, but both AT&T and Spectrum have service in the area. Fuller said he adjusted the grant application to request funding to run 55 miles of fiber past 610 houses, although the overall project will be much larger than that.
Rep. Randall Shedd, who represents the area, told The Times in May that the issue of rural broadband internet is finally being addressed. “When I first got in the legislature I addressed this issue with my colleagues and it seems like it’s taken a while, but it’s been a grass-roots issue,” he said. “It’s the people who don’t have it, or have slow or no internet, that’s really reaching out to us for it to do whatever we can.”
With the latest funding about $18.5 million has been awarded this year to expand high-speed internet access in mainly unserved rural areas.
“The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized how essential broadband services are to the unserved and underserved residents of Alabama,” Ivey said in a press release. “Thanks to the Broadband Accessibility Fund and broadband providers, we are making progress in ensuring that Alabamians have access to high-speed internet services, but there is no question we have a long way to go on completing this mission.”
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the program.
“Having access to high-speed internet can make a huge difference in the lives of Alabamians in terms of doing business, obtaining an education and improving the overall quality of life,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA is pleased to be a part of this process that will change lives for the better.”
In June, the Cullman Electric Cooperative announced the launch of its new internet service, Sprout Fiber.
Sprout Fiber Internet will offer Cullman Electric members upload and download speed starting at 300 Mbps and going as high as a gigabit per second.
Cullman Electric has already started building a fiber network that will connect all of the co-op’s substations and offices to further enhance the quality of its electrical service. In the process, Sprout Fiber Internet will make gigabit- speed internet access available to more than 12,000 co-op members.
Construction on the first phase started this month and should be complete in 12 to 18 months. According to the cooperative, it’s an $18 million investment for the co-op.
If the first phase is successful, future phases will be designed and built with the ultimate goal of making Sprout Fiber Internet available to every Cullman Electric member.
Other grants awarded through the Broadband Accessibility Fund and coverage areas include:
Butler County: Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) - $128,797 to provide service availability to 48 households and four community anchors in the Sherling Lake community which is northwest of the city of Greenville.
Choctaw County/Washington County: Millry Telephone Co. Inc. - $954,902 to extend broadband service in the third phase of a project covering south Choctaw and north Washington counties. The project includes 559 households, 16 businesses and two anchors including Millry City Hall and Millry School.
Cleburne County: Gigafy - $178,782 to provide access availability to 486 households and 38 businesses in the vicinity of the city of Heflin.
Dallas County: Spectrum Southeast - $55,481 to extend broadband service availability to 55 households in the Deerfield subdivision west of the city of Selma.
Lee County: Spectrum Southeast - $8,407 to provide high-speed cable access to eight households along Lee County Road 279 near the Halawaka community.
Tallapoosa County: Spectrum Southeast -$245,567 to extend service availability to 316 households in the Marina Marin area of Lake Martin near Alabama Highway 50.
ADECA is also conducting a Broadband SpeedSurvey to help identify gaps in broadband coverage for the state’s planning efforts. Alabamians can report their internet speed or lack of internet by taking the survey at alabama.speedsurvey.org. Those unable to complete the survey online may also call 334-353-4589 to complete it by phone.