Governor visits Russellville
Healthcare and broadband – and the challenges faced by rural areas attempting to provide such services – were the topics of the day for Gov. Robert Bentley, who spent the morning in Russellville last Wednesday.
Bentley met with the Franklin County Broadband Taskforce at the Franklin County Courthouse, and taskforce director Katernia Cole-Coffey laid out a timeline of efforts by the group to bring reliable broadband Internet to the county.
Franklin County has been officially working on bringing broadband to its communities for three years – although the conversation actually began in 2005 – and Cole-Coffey wanted to make sure Bentley recognizes the effort this task force has put into this initiative.
Broadband internet connectivity is desirable to improve operations for everything from healthcare and public safety to economic enterprises. Franklin County faces numerous challenges arising out of lack of internet connectivity – especially in the most rural areas. Further, wireless internet is limited in ways fiber optic – which can provide 1 gigabit and faster speeds, video services, streaming services, web hosting and more – is not.
Cole-Coffey outlined the roadblocks the group has faced – primarily, issues of funding. “We need some help,” Cole-Coffey said. “We know the need … A project without funding is dead.”
Bentley acknowledged the hurdles to providing broadband to rural areas and outlined some of the progress being made at the state level in this regard, for Franklin County and other rural counties, as well.
“If we’re going to help rural Alabama, rural Alabama needs to be connected to the rest of the world,” Bentley said. “We have looked at ways to bring broadband to the entire state of Alabama.”
Bentley said the state is looking into different options for providing internet service to the state and different funding sources, including $200-300 million available for two years – federal E-Rate dollars that are set aside for education and libraries but could be accessed for broadband – which would benefit education and libraries, as well as all other entities and industries.
“You can’t do things without adequate connectivity,” Bentley said.
Cole-Coffey said she was glad Bentley visited the county to hear about its broadband issues face-to-face.
“I feel more confident about broadband, and I’m glad he had a chance to hear what we’ve done and where we’re trying to go,” Cole-Coffey said. “A lot of times people don’t realize the work you have already put in a project … He has a better understanding.”
From her perspective – in a view that his shared by many in Franklin County – greater internet connectivity is absolutely crucial.
“Broadband, high speed Internet access, is as important as roads, utilities, running water,” Cole-Coffey said. “Day-to-day operations – you need high speed Internet access.”
The governor also spent several hours at Russellville Hospital, visiting with administrators and local medical professionals. He emphasized the importance of rural hospitals that can provide quality care to local citizens.