Tombigbee Communications, a subsidiary of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the company $29,495,232 as a 50% loan-grant combination in the first round of the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program.
The company will use the awarded funds to develop an All-Dielectric Self-Supporting (ADSS) fiber network and extend freedom FIBER, the company’s ultra-high-speed fiber optic service, to 1,100 square-miles of unserved areas of Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Franklin, Winston and Walker counties in northwest Alabama. This investment is anticipated to reach 2,152 households, 20 farms, 15 businesses, 10 critical community facilities, five educational facilities and one health care facility. Increased broadband access will improve education, economic development, safety and quality of life.
“Beyond connecting us to our friends and family, high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is a necessity to do business, access opportunities in education, and receive specialized health care in rural America today. It is a necessity, not an amenity,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy.
“Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”
Freedom FIBER currently is connected in Hamilton and Winfield, with construction underway in Haleyville, Hackleburg, Sulligent and Vernon. After receiving a $2.98 million grant under USDA’s Community Connect Broadband Grant Program in May 2018, Tombigbee Communications expanded service to Brilliant, a rural community in northwest Alabama.
“Expanding freedom FIBER broadband to residents across northwest Alabama meets a critical e-Connectivity need,” said Steve Foshee, president and CEO of Tombigbee Communications. “From students having the ability to complete their schoolwork, to our neighbors in need of receiving adequate healthcare, freedom FIBER broadband will help improve the lives and communities of rural northwest Alabama. Thanks to our partners at USDA, Tombigbee will help close the digital divide, advance our communities and allow rural America to flourish.”
Residents of the grant-funded areas can expect construction to begin in spring 2020, and should have access to ultra-high-speed internet within three to five years. The construction will begin in Marion County, then proceed to Lamar, Fayette, Winston, Franklin and Walker counties.
The expansion of freedom FIBER has allowed northwest Alabama to be the first region in the state to offer universally available fiber optic services. The reliable, ultra-high-speed internet connection is among the fastest available in Alabama and is offered to customers at an affordable price.
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Tombigbee Communications offers residential customers two speeds: 100 mbps up and 100 mbps down, or 1 gigabit up and 1 gigabit down. Businesses will receive 10 gigabit services, with varied rates depending on the specific needs of each company. VoIP phone services also will be available. freedom FIBER is not metered or data capped.
Through the ReConnect Pilot Program, USDA has invested a total of $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure that will create or improve e-Connectivity for more than 8,000 rural households, 57 farms, 44 businesses, 17 educational facilities, 14 critical community facilities, and three health care facilities in rural Alabama.
In addition to Tombigbee Communications’ grant, the USDA ReConnect Pilot Program also awarded Millry Telephone Company, Inc. a $28,195,668 50% loan-grant combination; Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. a $1,999,439 loan; and National Telephone of Alabama, Inc. a $2,672,910 50% loan-grant combination. The Broadband ReConnect Program provides funds for the costs of construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.