Feds OK Kentucky plans to roll out $1 billion for broadband

Published 5:00 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Liam Niemeyer

Kentucky Lantern

Federal officials have approved Kentucky’s plan to deploy almost $1.1 billion to expand broadband, a key step toward connecting homes and businesses throughout the state. The funding was given to the state last year. Earlier this month the National Telecommunications and Information Administration approved the second volume of Kentucky’s proposed plans for using the money through the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, or BEAD, created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Email newsletter signup

Those approved plans include how grants will be awarded to internet providers, what affordability mechanisms will be available to help Kentuckians pay for internet service once it’s expanded, and how workers will be trained to help build broadband connections.

Kentucky will require internet providers applying for the funding to offer a “low-cost” option, which would be $30 a month or less, though internet providers could negotiate the price of that “low cost” option to a max of $65 a month. No charges for installation, maintenance or repairs are to be allowed in the monthly cost.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in a Monday press conference said the internet expansion spurred by the funding “should provide a route” for more Kentuckians to have affordable internet.

“If broadband and high speed internet is just as important as roads and bridges, then everybody needs to be able to use it. So, affordability is absolutely critical,” Beshear said. Beshear also called the recent expiration of a federal program that provided up to $30 a month to low-income households for internet access “a shame.” Approximately 1 in 4 Kentucky households were enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The next steps to roll out Kentucky’s funding include a process for ensuring the accuracy of the state’s broadband access maps. Meghan Sandfoss, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Broadband Development, said her office has received more than 400,000 challenges to the maps from internet providers, nonprofits and local governments, and the challenge process should finish by July. Accurate maps will better identify underserved and unserved parts of the state and make sure broadband expansion isn’t duplicative, Sandfoss said.

From there, the state has less than five years to distribute broadband grants and build internet connection. Sandfoss said the state has until 2028 to distribute the more than $1 billion in BEAD funding. She said broadband projects underway that were previously funded by the state with hundreds of millions of dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act have to be finished by the end of 2026.

Sandfoss said about 12% of Kentucky is either underserved or unserved by internet providers, according to federal data, and the BEAD funding should “close the gap all the way.”

“There’s quite a lot of activity going on right now, and it will continue for the next four years,” Sandfoss said.