Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

What Underutilized Renewable Alabama Resource Could Catapult The State Economically?

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, January 14, 2016

Soon, the Alabama state legislature will reconvene, and soon enough, they will – once again – be faced with enormous fiscal shortfalls.

And, once again as well, the Republican super-dominated Alabama state legislature will be reticent, reluctant, and recalcitrant to raise taxes… except upon those least capable of paying them. I refer, of course, to the impoverished, which – according to the United States Census Bureau – comprise nearly 20% of Alabama’s population. And with a population estimated at 4,849,377, that’s 901, 984 people, who annually, according to the research, earn under:
$11,770 for individuals,
$15,930 for a family of 2,
$20,090 for a family of 3,
$24,250 for a family of 4,
$28,410 for a family of 5,
$32,570 for a family of 6,
$36,730 for a family of 7,
$40,890 for a family of 8.

Another figure to consider is the state’s unemployment rate, which – according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics – had a slight uptick in November 2015 (the month for the most recent data) from the October rate – at 6.0% from 5.9%. Alabama’s employment recovery rate from the “Great Recession” has largely paralleled the National recovery rate, and Governor Bentley will, once again, remain without a salary – which he promised on the campaign trail that, I will not accept a salary until Alabama reaches full employment. He later defined that figure as 5.2%.

Already, the legislature is once again, coming face-to-face with the dread reality that there are insufficient funds in state coffers to properly, fully, and adequately fund the full and efficient operations of state government (including law enforcement, protection of its most vulnerable citizens, and maintenance of its infrastructure), which the people have requested, and therefore rightfully demand.

There are dire circumstances upon the horizon, and in order to survive, the state must change the way it’s been operating for the last 100+ years. The antiquated 1901 State Constitution is unnecessarily unwieldy, bloated and inefficient, and forces state legislators to micromanage each town, city, and county, rather than focus upon managing the state as a whole. Because home rule – allowing local folks to make local decisions – is denied, it forces the legislators to quibble about minor details best left to local people. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a referendum put to the entire state’s voters to ask if a particular municipality or county should be allowed to do, or not do a thing. Literally, the entire state must vote on such inane detail. The 1901 Alabama State Constitution is a document which waddles through the Internet Age on pudgy, stubby, and weak little legs, barely supporting the people, and the changes they are demanding. Only recently was miscegenation (the marriage of one ethnicity to another, e.g., Anglos with African-Americans) stricken from the state’s constitution. The legislature must, to paraphrase an idiom, realize that buggy whips are no longer in demand, and make the painfully necessary changes to their fundamental methods and operations in order to survive.

But, I digress.

Alabama has resources that the state legislature and others, are completely overlooking.

There are resources which, if properly and fully utilized, could transform the state from a wanna-be, to a strong contender.

Fortunately, those renewable and clean resources are now largely in place, and would benefit all residents, and provide a much-needed source of revenue to the state.

No, I do not refer to the rightfully maligned idea to sell the State Parks System, nor the equally bad idea to sell off the state-operated Alcoholic Beverage Control Board-managed liquor stores.

Rather, I refer to AREN.

“The Alabama Research and Education Network (AREN) provides Internet access and other network services to all public K-12 schools, public four-year colleges and universities, Alabama’s community colleges, public libraries, and some state agencies.”

In a nutshell, AREN is the state-owned and operated high-speed, fiber optic Internet system.

With speeds of 24Gbps, “AREN continues to provide quality Internet and networking services for all clients, whether sending an email or using live video to take high school physics.”

AREN - The Alabama Research and Education Network - is a high-speed, fiber optic Internet backbone that runs throughout the state, providing high-speed Internet connectivity to schools, colleges & universities, local, county, state and federal clients, including public libraries and some private enterprise.

AREN – The Alabama Research and Education Network – is a high-speed, fiber optic Internet backbone that runs throughout the state, providing high-speed Internet connectivity to schools, colleges & universities, local, county, state and federal clients, including public libraries and some private enterprise.

Just how fast is 24Gbps?

In their limited, though expanding coverage areas, Google Fiber Optic is offering 1Gbps.

In stark comparison, EPB has 10Gbps.

Just how fast is 10 Gig Internet?

EPB writes that “with 10,000 Mbps of Internet speed, that’s enough bandwidth to stream 1,754 online movies all at the same time – in HD – from a single Internet connection without experiencing any buffering or lag time. While that’s more bandwidth than you can imagine needing now – it’s an enormous blank slate of possibility for whatever opportunities innovative thinkers can dream up next.”

AREN – the Alabama Research and Education Network – has 24Gbps.

To be certain, AREN Internet Subscription is growing. In 2012, they had 13,000Mbps. By 2013 they had 24,000Mbps.

The extent of the network, and it’s extensive list of clients – which includes all public colleges & universities, public schools, many public libraries, state, local and federal governments, some private colleges, and private industry – may be found here.

If AREN were to expand their offerings to include residential use, the state – as a viable competitor in a Free Market – could very well score a huge coup, financially and economically, and catapult Alabama well into the 21st Century. No longer would “Thank God for Mississippi” be Alabama’s unofficial state motto.

Though it would be virtually unheard of, to offer high-speed, fiber optic Internet connectivity through a public service has precedent.

The City of Chattanooga, through the public utility Electric Power Board, began offering high-speed, fiber optic Internet connectivity to its customers some years ago, and in that process, transformed it’s economy from a once-filthy, polluted industrial has-been, to an up-and-coming green and clean “Gigabit City,” which has attracted industries like Volkswagen, Amazon, and others, to locate their facilities in the area.

Chattanooga’s investment in fiber optic high-speed Internet infrastructure is paying huge economic dividends. NerdWallet, a personal finance information service, rated Chattanooga the 6th best city for economic growth from 2009 to 2012, which were the years immediately following EPB’s decision to invest in creating and expanding high-speed public broadband network. In that same 2009-1012 time frame, Chattanooga’s median household income grew 13.5%, and home values increased 14%.

In fact, since 1999 – the year EPB began offering telecommunication and Internet services –  Chattanooga’s population has seen a consistent increase.

EPB states their mission is to:

“Enhance the quality of life in our community by providing energy, communications and related services reliably, efficiently and courteously at the lowest reasonable cost.

“As a community-owned company, our goal is not to build stock value or amass wealth. It is to help as many people in our community as possible, improving our community through reliable products and services at the lowest reasonable cost.

“To achieve this goal, we prioritize technology-based innovation, unequivocal excellence in all aspects of the company, reliability, honesty and integrity, exceptional customer service, and corporate social responsibility.”

Here’s a bit of background for those unfamiliar with EPB’s fiber optic Internet service ability.

Chattanooga, TN population growth

Since 1999, when Electric Power Board (EPB) began offering telecommunication & Internet services, the city’s population has continued to grow.

In 1999, EPB celebrated its 60th anniversary, entered into the telecommunications business, and began to assemble a staff and technical components to develop a fiber-optics-based network, providing high-speed data, local business telephone and other telecommunications services.

It all began as an effort to enhance EPB’s ability to respond efficiently to downed power lines, by specifically pinpointing locations of problems when they occurred, and troubleshooting areas of potential future problem.

To do that, EPB created a fiber optic network for themselves, which they discovered afterward, had enormous “leftover” bandwidth, more even than they could use themselves. So, they decided to do the best, fiscally prudent and smart business sense thing, and sell the “excess” to their customers. It turned out to be a smash hit. But Comcast, an Internet Service Provider, and one of the most justifiably maligned companies in the United States, along with their corporate attorneys, took offense to the idea that a company owned by local people could, in a Free Market, compete with, and offer superior service and quality product, and sued EPB.

The long and short of it, is that EPB won, still charges much less than Comcast, and provides superior quality product and service than does Comcast. And a “mere” seven years later, Comcast finally decided to offer fiber optic to their Chattanooga customers… at TWICE the price of EPB. In stark contrast, EPB has doubled the quality of their product (speed) and service, and LOWERED the price.

As a tongue-in-cheek observation, I remind the readers that the dread “socialism” is merely a company owned by it’s employees, and or customers (there are many employee-owned companies in the United States, including New Belgium Brewing, Publix Supermarkets, WinCo Foods, Graybar Electric, Acadian Ambulance, etc.) – which is exactly what EPB is – a publicly owned utility. In that sense, it’s much like a Credit Union – owned by its members.

More the point, however…

If Alabama were to effectively utilize it’s AREN (Alabama Research and Education Network) to provide Internet access and other network services to the general public (private residences), and other businesses, imagine what enormous benefits could accrue!

Already, many public K-12 schools, public four-year colleges and universities, Alabama’s community & junior colleges, technical schools, public libraries, and some local, state & federal agencies, including some private enterprises, utilize AREN.

Why not expand its availability to the general public?

Alabama could – once again – lead the nation in a beneficial and positive way.

By so doing, the expansion of opportunities in healthcare, entrepreneurship, and other areas would be virtually limitless!

Alabama could be Number One… in something else besides NCAA Division I football.

Let’s make it happen!

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