Project will expand internet service

Published 10:13 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More and more Dallas County homes will see their internet capabilities increase in the near future.

During Monday’s Dallas County Commission meeting A2D Inc. representative Brian Watkins discussed plans to expand broadband service through Dallas and into Lowndes County. The project is part of an $80 million grant awarded under the economic stimulus package, which is a result of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

It began with a $59 million grant, Watkins said, and has been supplemented by $26 million from private investors. The project was awarded in August of 2010 and must be completed by August of 2013.

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“It’s going to consist of laying 2,200 miles of fiber optic infrastructure through eight rural counties, and Dallas County is one of the eight,” he said. “The real core of the project is to establish a fiber optic backbone so that it can continually develop and expand.”

The plan, Watkins said, is to connect all major anchor institutions, which include government buildings, hospitals, libraries, clinics, and schools. Targeted areas include places with internet less than 1.5 megabytes and households with incomes less than $25,000.

“That is about roughly 15,000 homes,” Watkins said.

The project will be governed by the South-Central Alabama Broadband Commission once it is turned over after the construction period.

The benefits from a project of this magnitude are limitless, Watkins said.

“The real key component is going to be what the effect is for the local community,” he said. “One is the economic development that will be spurred from it, that was obviously the whole initiative behind this, job creation. This will also impact education, because our schools will be connected to one another and the universities and colleges here in the region.”

Distance learning programs and electronic access to physicians through telemedicine are another benefit, Watkins said.

Once the project is complete, Watkins said it falls under the ownership of the communities it serves.

“That’s one of the main, key things to pull out of this,” he said. “It’s also a community owned asset once it is in the ground. The actual community, by jurisdiction, it is owned by the county.”

Phase I, which includes Dallas County, begins at the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 and Highway 5 at Browns and Marion Junction. The project will continue along Highway 8o and move south on Highway 5 and 22. The project will also move across the river on Highway 80 to Lowndes County on Highway 97 and 21 toward Montgomery.

The project, Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said, should bring exciting things to the Black Belt.

“I personally think you are going to see a lot of private enterprise spring off from this backbone,” Ballard said. “This is the backbone, and then the ribs and arms and legs will come off of it.”

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