Getting Kentucky wired for broadband could take years

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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Kentucky Lantern

With more than $1 billion on its way to connect Kentuckians who have poor or nonexistent Internet access, a roundtable of government leaders and telecommunications executives on June 27 gave a window into the years of work that lie ahead to make broadband a reality throughout the state.

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Gov. Andy Beshear joined the U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo — alongside state leaders of AT&T and Windstream — to trumpet the latest federal funding influx to build Internet access made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“Just think about what this can do. We’re talking about access everywhere. No neighborhood left out. No holler left out,” Beshear said at Simmons College in Louisville. “It means we bring it even where it’s difficult terrain, even where it’s been difficult to previously provide.”

Like previous rounds of federal broadband funding, the state’s Office of Broadband Deployment will be in charge of awarding grants to companies and groups willing to build the physical Internet connection to homes and businesses. Those broadband providers range from local electrical cooperatives to large corporations such as Charter Communications, which received the lion’s share of money from one of the past funding rounds.

“Certainly this is going to be deployed in a period of years. It’s not going to happen in a period of months,” Beshear said. “It is a really exciting partnership between government and our private and nonprofit providers, where we believe, really, we both bring our strengths to the table to maximize the speed, the affordability and ultimately the access for all Kentuckians.”

Beshear also said the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, led by former Democratic state lawmaker and U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker, will play a large role in raising awareness about programs to help Kentuckians afford Internet access once it’s built, including the Affordable Connectivity Program.

“We often know that when amounts are delivered, allocations are made, the folks on the ground, the folks who need it the most can still be left out,” Booker said. “This type of investment is about addressing inequity.”

Booker said at the roundtable one of the biggest governmental “blindspots” is trying to build trust with community leaders who know what is needed in neighborhoods. His office is working with the Office of Broadband Deployment on a “statewide equity plan” on broadband access that is “focused on the folks who get ignored the most.”

As a part of receiving more than $1 billion in funding,  U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo said the state is creating a five-year “action plan” that lays out Kentucky’s near-term goals and priorities for building broadband to submit to the federal government.

“We are on a mission to find everyone and make sure everyone is connected to high speed, high quality affordable Internet,” said Raimondo. “So there’ll be another few months we’ll work back and forth on the plan and then we’ll start putting money out the door.”

Beshear said the existing KentuckyWired broadband network, a public-private partnership creating a network of fiber-optic cable Internet connection to all 120 counties, will eventually be integrated into the broadband projects funded by new federal dollars.

The KentuckyWired network in the past has been burdened with overspending and years of delays and faced strong criticism from lawmakers, but leadership of the effort has said the network is nearly complete in its construction.