High-tech conference pushes for expansion of broadband

Published 3:38 pm Monday, January 5, 2009

Even though they were in Shelby County, Sheriff Chris Curry and County Circuit Court Judge Michael Joiner were part of a high-tech press conference held Monday morning by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who was in Montgomery.

Also taking part in the press conference were a pediatrician in Brewton, a business leader in Mobile and a farmer and elementary school teacher in Lamar County.

The participants were linked with the governor and each other via the Internet and a video connection made possible by broadband. Each spoke on how they use the Internet and other modern technologies in their professions and how the state would benefit from greater access to high-speed Internet.

Riley used the setup to demonstrate the power of the Internet and to launch his Alabama Broadband Initiative, aimed at bringing high-speed Internet access to every community in the state.

Unfortunately, as often is the case with new technology, after making their presentation, Curry and Joiner lost their connection to the conference and did not see it completed, said Capt. Ken Burchfield, a spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.

Burchfield said Curry discussed how law enforcement officials in Shelby County are aided by technology daily while doing their jobs.

Modern technology keeps corrections officers and inmates and their families safer during visitations.

“We no longer allow personal contact between an inmate and their loved one or friend,” Burchfield said. Visitations now are made through a video and audio setup, he said.

“They can talk and see each other on a monitor and it frees up our corrections officers, makes it safer for the inmate and their loved one, as well as corrections officers, and prevents contraband from entering the jail,” Burchfield said.

The same kind of video and audio setup is being used to allow inmates to be arraigned without having to travel to the courthouse. The inmate and the judge are connected via a video monitor and audio system.

All marked Shelby County Sheriff’s patrol cars are equipped with Mobile Data Terminals.

“Those allow deputies to look up information in our data bases and frees up the dispatchers, who at one time had to look up the information for the officer, to do other things,” he said.

That technology presently operates using cellular telephone service. Data streams through a mobile air card, Burchfield said, and is only as good as cell tower coverage is.

“In places where the topography is difficult, like on Highway 25 between Vincent and Leeds, or our southern boundary,” coverage is spotty.

Curry also talked about the technology used by officers to issue E-Citations, or electronic traffic citations. Officers simply swipe a driver’s license, input data and print out the ticket, Burchfield said.

“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,” Riley said. “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. But without sufficient access to broadband, these communities and their residents will remain technologically isolated, and thus, disadvantaged.”