For Immediate Release
Contact: Kelly Wismer, 703-351-2015, [email protected]
Birmingham, Ala. (July 31, 2018): Regional and industry leaders, as well as rural broadband users are expected to participate in an E-Connectivity Listening Session on Thursday, Aug. 16, in Birmingham, Ala.
This listening session--part of the project, What's on the Horizon for E-Connectivity in Rural America--will be at Lawson State Community College, 3060 Wilson Road SW, Birmingham.
This project is organized by Farm Foundation, in collaboration with CoBank, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"This listening session is a great opportunity to have a much-needed conversation about connecting Alabama's rural communities," says Fred Johnson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative (FTC) in Rainsville, Ala. "We know that broadband access is vital to the economic growth and vitality of these communities. This event is a terrific example of stakeholders coming together to share the accomplishments of small, rural broadband providers across Alabama. Closing the digital divide is a goal we all share and creating partnerships to reinvest in our networks is an important component of achieving that goal. We have made great strides in Alabama. Exploring creative solutions at this listening session will allow these efforts to benefit rural communities across the country."
The Aug. 16 event is the third of four listening sessions planned across the nation to gather insights into the tools that are needed to improve e-connectivity in rural America. This specific session will focus on the needs for and options for building quality broadband service to enhance the quality of life in rural America, including its economic health.
The session will be 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 340-342 of the Alabama Center for Advanced Technology and Training, located on the Lawson campus. There is no charge for this event, but reservations are requested by close of business Monday, Aug. 13. Reservations can be made by sending an e-mail to [email protected].
Farm Foundation President Constance Cullman will moderate the session which will begin with a panel that includes Anshu Vaish, CEO of Robin Health, Macon, Ga., and a representative of the region's production agriculture. This panel will be followed by an open mic session, in which individuals are invited to present brief perspectives on the availability and quality of broadband services in rural communities, and the impact that service has on quality of life in the region.
A second panel will feature broadband providers in the region discussing specific challenges and opportunities for improving e-connectivity in the region. Panelists will be Johnson of FTC; Jake Cowen, Chief Financial Officer of Troy Cable in Troy, Ala.; and Steve Foshee, President/CEO of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, Hamilton, Ala. A second open mic session will follow this panel.
Says Tombigbee CEO Foshee: "You hear it constantly--Rural America is diminishing. We cannot allow this to prove true, and we have made it Tombigbee's mission to turn that narrative around. We are determined to advance our rural communities and positively impact our customers by providing affordable broadband access across Northwest Alabama.
"We believe the key to restoring prosperity in Rural America--and specifically our four-county area--is to remove barriers by bringing fiber to every home and business, a true necessity in today's world," Foshee continues.
The Aug. 16 session will conclude with an update from Washington, D.C., by Jannine Miller, Senior Advisor for Rural Infrastructure at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Through these listening sessions, we want to focus on options to address the specific challenges rural residents encounter in accessing consistent, quality broadband services," says Cullman. "We will hear from regional experts, but an important element of the session will be hearing from the people who live and work with limited broadband access today."
The Birmingham listening session is the third of the regional sessions to gather specific input from broadband providers and the people who use--or would like to be able to use--those services. The fourth session will be Sept. 20 in Colorado. A report of those sessions will be provided to federal and state public and private leaders to better inform their decisions regarding improvements to, and expansion of, broadband services in rural America.
The second session was June 19 in Fairbault, Minn. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai joined executives from the five partner organizations April 18 in Washington, D.C., for the first listening session. Perdue and Pai both highlighted the importance of e-connectivity to all sectors of rural America.