Ohio company chosen for Ala. broadband project

Tue, 01/06/2009 - 7:10am
Bob Johnson, The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama officials have selected a Cincinnati company for a $1.7 million, two-year contract to make Internet broadband service available in all areas of the southern state.

Currently, dial-up Internet access is available using telephone lines in most parts of the state, but the service is slow and sometimes unreliable.

Gov. Bob Riley said Monday his broadband project will make high-speed Internet access with cables or wireless connections available even in rural areas. He said customers will still have to buy Internet access from providers like cable television or phone companies.

Riley said Monday the project would be funded mostly with federal grants.

The contract with CostQuest Associates will go before the Legislature's Contract Review Committee for approval Thursday, but the committee can only delay contracts for up to 45 days, not stop them.

The governor last year created a 34-member bipartisan committee to oversee the expansion of broadband coverage in Alabama. Riley said the committee chose CostQuest after being contacted by more than 2,000 potential vendors.

Riley said in his home county, Clay, high-speed Internet connections are mostly unavailable in rural areas.

"It's depressing to see children go to school and have broadband available and then go home and not have it," Riley said.

At a news conference, Riley demonstrated the capabilities of high-speed Internet by talking with people at locations across the state.

One of those interactions was with Lamar County dairy farmer Will Gilmer, who was on a high-speed connection. He said he mostly has to depend on a slow dial-up connection to order equipment or market his products at Gilmer Dairy Farms.

"I type in a request on my computer. Then I go fix a cup of coffee and I come back and my request is about halfway complete," Gilmer said.

Brewton pediatrician Marsha Raulerson said high-speed Internet connections are making it possible for some of her young patients to see a psychiatrist at Children's Hospital in Birmingham by video hookup rather than making the 200-mile trip.

"This helps children to be able to stay in their own communities," Raulerson said.

Kathy Johnson, director of the Alabama Broadband Initiative, said Alabama officials have been talking with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and hope to receive some financial assistance from an economic incentive plan. Obama has made improving broadband access part of his objective for boosting the economy by improving the nation's infrastructure.

Riley said improving Internet access will bring jobs and opportunities to rural areas.

"Broadband availability breaks down barriers to jobs and careers in high-paying fields, it brings health care to isolated areas, it offers new education opportunities for our citizens," Riley said.

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