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Chilton County Broadband Coalition Addresses Broadband Access by Feasibility Study

The leaders of Chilton County and its cities and towns recognized the need for additional broadband infrastructure in the county and began formulating plans to address the issue in early 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic started impacting our state, the results were school closures, stay at home orders, and measures taken to quarantine the public for safety.
Continuing to function in a normal capacity created a different set of challenges for our local communities. Strong and reliable broadband immediately moved to the top of the priority list for our leaders. After research and numerous meetings, the Chiton County Commission, Town of Maplesville, City of Clanton, Town of Thorsby, City of Jemison, and the Chilton County Board of Education, and the Industrial Development Authority of Chilton County partnered with Sain and Associates to
perform a broadband study for the county. The study’s intent is to provide an inventory of connectivity information, identify strengths and weaknesses of connectivity, and identify potential solutions to strategically address the issues.

Concurrently, Central Access, a subsidiary of Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, is installing Phase I of their infrastructure plan. Phase I consists of connecting fiber to their power facilities while providing service to existing coop members.

At the beginning of the conversations with county leaders, it was imperative to include the Chilton County Board of Education in all the discussions. With the entire Chilton County student population out of school and the uncertain plans of what the fall will look like, a conversation was essential with Chilton County BOE Superintendent Jason Griffin. The leaders teamed up to identify ways to reach the student population remotely. Superintendent Griffin joined the Chilton County Broadband Coalition by contributing staff expertise in creating and hosting the online survey for the study. The objective of the survey is to collect a sampling fromthe citizens in Chilton County regarding their opinion on broadband service in our area.

Furthermore, other members of the Coalition include Chilton County DHR, Chilton County E911, Chilton County Emergency Management Agency, Local Chilton CountyMedical Community, and Chilton County Chamber of Commerce.

The objectives of the Broadband Feasibility Study commissioned by the Chilton County Broadband Coalition includes defining broadband coverage goals; documenting existing broadband infrastructure and coverage areas; developing short and long term recommendations and compiling information needed to apply for grants and other funding.

The data captured by Chilton County’s consultant, Sain and Associates, will identify weaknesses and strengths in the county’s broadband infrastructure network. With the study in hand, the partnership will be able to identify currently available public hotspots and the interest of many countywide resources who would entertain hosting a potential hotspot.

Chilton County Broadband Coalition

Chilton County Commission

Town of Maplesville, City of Clanton, Town of Thorsby

Chilton County Broadband Coalition
Chilton County Commission
Industrial Development Authority of Chilton County

Chilton County Emergency Management Agency
City of Jemison

Chilton County Board of Education
Chilton County Department of Human Resources
Chilton County Chamber of Commerce

With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis timeline, the Chilton County Broadband Coalition knows it needs to identify safe and social distant compliant access. Moving forward, the study will provide many other opportunities related to areas such as tele-health, workforce resources, public safety, emergency response, and additional access to county and municipal services / resources.

County Commission Chair, Joseph Parnell, “My role in this project from the Commission standpoint is to provide the direction needed to produce usable data. Innovation and business formation are constricted in our county without access to fiber. The process was placed into motion when leaders of the community unanimously voted to fund the feasibility study. The Mayors and I worked with out respected elected members to bring this study to the forefront of major issues in our county. We understand the importance of broadband/fiber and what the absence of costs our communities.”

“Clanton is on the cusp of change. Late Mayor Driver was instrumental in working with Commissioner Parnell and the coalition to start the study,” stated Mayor Bobby Cook. “As at the time Council member and now Mayor, I agreed with Mayor Driver on the importance of the study. Strong and reliable broadband is the foundation of moving our City forward and creating a community where education, health, economic growth, and even entertainment are easy to access. Clanton is ready to move forward and
continue to work as a member of the Coalition on identifying and expanding our fiber and hotspots to our citizens,”

As a member of the Clanton City Council and a medical doctor, I personally understand the lifesaving significance of fiber and hotspots for health care, including access to health information, access to remote telemedicine and mental health treatment options, and provider access to online resources,” state Dr. Jeff Price, MD, Clanton City Council member. “The unanimous vote
by our council to fund the study and join the Coalition demonstrated our support for this effort. It is no longer a luxury but an integral part of our infrastructure. Strong and reliable broadband saves lives.”

“Building a Coalition to address the needs for a strong and reliable fiber network is a tremendous step for Chilton County. Our Coalition will address not only the needs of our current residents, but allow for our county to become more competitive in the digital age. COVID-19 has brought a new era for economic development, remote workspaces are now a common actuality and not an exception,” stated Whitney Barlow, IDACC Executive Director. “We need a strong and reliable network and access to hotspots to continue to meet the demand in the market.”

“Thanks to the County Commission for having the foresight to pursue a study of this nature. The study helped accelerate needed infrastructure to serve our students. The County Commission with partners like Central Access are going to drive the competition to expand broadband significantly in Chilton County,” Superintendent Jason Griffin remarked.

“Many of Alabama’s rural communities do not have adequate broadband infrastructure,” said Jim Meads, P.E., President/CEO of Sain Associates. “In Chilton County, more than 75% of its citizens are underserved or unserved with broadband internet. We are excited about our ongoing role in helping the Chilton County Broadband Coalition and its partners plan for improving
broadband connectivity for students, industry and citizens.”

Should you have any questions related to this effort, please contact Whitney Barlow, wbarlow@growchilton.org.