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January 05, 2009   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4187
January 05, 2009

Gov. Riley talks about rural broadband during videoconference.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Lamar County young farmer Will Gilmer joined Gov. Bob Riley in demonstrating the need and value of broadband Internet access during a Jan. 5 news conference in which Riley announced a $1.7 million, two-year project to study the state's broadband coverage and develop plans for increasing affordable high-speed Internet access in rural areas.

Gilmer, who spoke via videoconference, elicited laughs and empathy from reporters and members of the governor's Alabama Broadband Commission as he told about the slow, dial-up connection available in his area.

"When farmers need up-to-the-minute weather and commodity information, that usually involves going to a Web site, going to make a cup of coffee, drinking the coffee and then coming back to see the page only half loaded," said Gilmer, who noted that DSL (high-speed) Internet service ends less than a mile from his farm.

On serious note, Gilmer emphasized that farmers need reliable, broadband access not only to get information, but also to share their stories with the world.

"Many people these days simply don't understand where their food comes from. As farmers, many of us want to educate the public about how production and environmental stewardship go hand in hand and how we care for our animals," Gilmer said.

Gilmer, who writes a blog at his Web site, www.gilmerdairyfarm.com, would like to post videos showing how he cares for his dairy cows, but his current Internet connection is too slow.

Joining Gilmer via videoconference for the event was a pediatrician in Brewton, the head of ThyssenKrupp's Alabama operation near Mobile and a judge and sheriff from Shelby County. The guests shared how broadband Internet access is vital to the success and efficiency of business, telemedicine and court proceedings.

Riley issued an executive order last May creating the Alabama Broadband Initiative. During the news conference, he reiterated his personal goal of having 100 percent broadband access throughout the state by the end of his term.

"Although broadband on its own is not a silver bullet for prosperity, adequate broadband access is an enabler for economic development and for enhancing the lives of our citizens," said Riley. "We started the Alabama Broadband Initiative to make sure small towns and rural communities don't get left behind.

"Rural communities offer so much in quality of life and have so much potential," added Riley, who hails from rural Clay County. "But without sufficient access to broadband, these communities and their residents will remain technologically isolated and thus, disadvantaged."

In addition to demonstrating the capabilities of and need for broadband, the news conference also gave Riley an opportunity to announce that CostQuest Associates of Cincinnati had been awarded a contract to study Alabama's broadband services and work to expand their reach.

The 34-member Alabama Broadband Commission contacted more than 2,000 potential vendors before settling on CostQuest, which also submitted the lowest cost proposal. Riley said funding for the $1.7 million project comes primarily through grants.

The company will work with Alabama's current Internet service providers to identify gaps in broadband availability, map current broadband access in the state and increase the use of broadband in areas that lack it. CostQuest will also create a Web site where Alabama residents can track their progress. Pending approval by the contract review committee, CostQuest will begin work Jan. 10.

If the Alabama Broadband Initiative is successful, Gilmer said it would not only benefit his farming business, but also would help his wife, Joni, with her work as a school teacher.

"Maybe then I can quit limping down the shoulder of the information superhighway and get in the fast lane," Gilmer said.

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