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What does broadband have to do with Birmingham?
The news about internet access in the Birmingham metro area, after all, revolves around gigabit fiber. But not everyone has access to broadband in Alabama. As someone whose life – my job, most of my hobbies, keeping in touch with friends – revolves around the internet, the idea of not having access to at least broadband sends shivers down my spine.
That’s changing, thanks to AT&T’s push to expand their markets. Earlier this week, I received an email from AT&T with details on how to find a tower site. The details included written directions and GPS coordinates. Shelby County officials, State Senator Jim McClendon, State Representative Corley Ellis, and others stood out in the sunny, muggy heat as AT&T representatives explained the significance. The heat also ensured that the redundant air conditioners attached to the network shack stood out – these towers are built to last in Alabama.
Shelby County schools, like many in the United States, rely on internet-supplemented textbooks, and sometimes even eschew physical textbooks entirely. That makes completing homework a pain for any students who don’t have broadband access at home.
How it works
AT&T doesn’t want to lay down cables to every underserved household – that would cost far too much. Instead, the company has developed a simple solution: copy a cellphone. Each of the towers in AT&T’s Fixed Wireless looks like a regular cell tower, because it is – aside from using a different section of the electromagnetic spectrum to prevent congestion. AT&T sends techs out to a customer’s house to locate the best spot for an antenna, then points that antenna at the strongest signal. Unusually, AT&T advertises “at least” 10Mbps, rather than the typical “up to.” In order to qualify for much of the funding the company received from both the FCC and Alabama, it must provide broadband access, defined as “at least” 10Mbps down, in rural areas.
This won’t provide Shelby County residents the fastest internet in the world (South Korea holds that honor). But the program represents a huge leap in Alabama’s development. And besides, we at Bham Now know the importance of fast internet – broadband access lets us entertain and inform you!