WINSTON COUNTY - While a new broadband provider prepares to begin serving the Haleyville area, an existing provider is proud of the achievements it has made to expand internet service while planning to do more to serve Winston County.
CenturyLink announced June 20, through a press release that it has expanded broadband to more than 30,000 rural homes and businesses in Alabama “as part of the company’s commitment to bring high-speed internet to more Americans”. Two of the communities mentioned by name within the press release were Double Springs and Haleyville. The company noted that the broadband service is being provided through CenturyLink’s participation in the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund.
“We know broadband brings many benefits to communities, including better access to jobs, education and healthcare services,” said Doug Tuchmann, CenturyLink vice president of operations for Alabama. “That’s why we’ve worked hard to expand broadband to more homes and businesses in our smaller, more rural U.S. markets.”
In August, 2015, CenturyLink accepted CAF II money - to be received over six years -from the FCC and committed to bring broadband with download speeds of at least 10 megabytes per second (mbps) to approximately 48,000 locations in FCC-designated, high-cost census blocks in Alabama. According to the press release, CenturyLink has successfully enabled more than 30,000 locations - or more than 60 percent of the total committed locations - in Alabama over the last three years, exceeding its year-end 2018 CAF enablement goal in the state.
In an interview with the Alabamian, Linda M. Johnson, corporation communications for CenturyLink in Washington, D.C., discussed the realities the company has faced bringing broadband service to Winston County. She noted that CenturyLink currently has more than 700 miles of copper and fiber optic cables in Winston County.
“CenturyLink is proud to provide internet download speeds of up to 80 mbps in parts of Winston County. However, most of our customers in the area order speeds significantly below 80 mbps, choosing to purchase either our 10 mbps or 20 mbps products,” Johnson said.
Johnson conceded that CenturyLink has faced issues providing broadband service to Winston County.
“Sparsely populated areas are difficult for any communications provider to serve due to the costs of building and maintaining network infrastructure. As broadband speeds have increased over time, we’ve built fiber optic connections deeper into our network and positioned broadband equipment much closer to our customers’ homes and businesses to provide higher speeds.
“In rural areas, the need to have this equipment and our fiber close to each customer sometimes means we end up serving a smaller number of homes, which makes it uneconomic to serve some areas. We acknowledge that many areas in Alabama are uneconomical to serve and, therefore, will require additional federal or state funding similar to the FCC’s CAF program,” Johnson said.
CenturyLink is currently finalizing its CAF enablement plans in Alabama.
“Work is underway to improve existing facilities and expand broadband service in Haleyville and Double Springs. We hope to be able to share some good news about these projects toward the end of the year,” Johnson said.
Johnson said local government officials can do a lot to help companies such as CenturyLink provide better service to Winston County residents.
“Local policymakers need to create conditions that encourage investment while removing barriers that can slow the deployment of broadband infrastructure. While the FCC’s CAF II program was designed to reach many rural areas that are otherwise uneconomic to serve, it does not provide support for every rural area of the U.S. The FCC has encouraged states to examine ways that can complement the FCC CAF program with state broadband grants to achieve even greater availability in unserved rural areas,” Johnson said.
State lawmakers have, in fact, been working toward this goal. An example of this was the passage of the Rural Broadband Initiative during the legislative session that just concluded. Signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey, the initiative allows the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to expand an existing grant program under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund for broadband providers in rural and underserved areas. The initiative requires participants in the grant program to raise minimum transmission speeds while allowing companies to build additional infrastructure to provide more bandwidth for high speed internet access.
Johnson noted that all technologies need to be considered as paths to help rural broadband providers.
“Policymakers need to consider all technologies, including fixed wireless and satellite, to help internet service providers reach the most rural portions of the state,” Johnson said.
Johnson assured that Winston County is a current priority for CenturyLink. She has a message for CenturyLink customers within the county.
“We hear and understand your concerns. CenturyLink knows how important broadband is to communities and the many benefits it brings. Please know that work is underway to expand broadband in Winston County. We will continue to work closely with local communities and state policymakers on creative public-private partnerships that encourage broadband investment and bring high-speed internet services to more homes and businesses,” Johnson said.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.