A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Officials celebrate state broadband project; government facilities among first to benefit


 
 

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To celebrate the construction of the statewide KentuckyWired I-Way broadband network, Gov. Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, state and local officials, and citizens gathered at Hazard Community and Technical College yesterday to learn more about the project and its future.
 

The broadband project will begin in Eastern Kentucky and, over the next three years, will spread throughout the state.
 

“This is an exciting day,” Beshear was quoted as saying in a press release from his office. “The potential for every Kentuckian to tap into the global economy, compete for higher paying jobs, collaborate with researchers across the globe, take classes online or access increased medical care make KentuckyWired one of the most important infrastructure projects in our state’s history.”
 

According to the release, the push for reliable, accessible and affordable high-speed broadband is one recommendation that emerged from the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative. That recommendation, along with the continuing loss of coal jobs, has been the reason for starting the project in the SOAR region. The Center for Rural Development partnered with the commonwealth to guide the Eastern Kentucky phase of the project.
 

The leaders also called on communities and local providers to get ready for the project by preparing the “last mile,” or the Internet hookups from the broadband “highway” to individual homes and businesses.
 

“Thanks to the I-Way, we will essentially have endless capacity and endless connectivity,” Rogers said. “The only limit is our creativity. It’s up to us to put this resource to work for economic diversity, job creation and improved opportunities for the people of eastern Kentucky.”
 

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Broadband is an ‘economic lifeline’
 

Broadband means a wide band of frequencies is available to transmit data. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission increased the broadband standard to 25 mbps, which means even more Kentuckians do not have service at the minimum level.
 

KentuckyWired will build the state’s middle-mile fiber network and will provide wholesale access to local Internet service providers who can extend fiber to homes and businesses, the press release stated.
 

“Consider the KentuckyWired project to be similar to building a highway through the state, and then local communities will build out the roads leading from the highway to neighborhoods and businesses,” said Steve Rucker, deputy secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet. “We need our communities to make plans now for building those ‘last miles’ to citizens.”
 

Broadband, like electricity, water and sewer, is an essential service in the 21st century economy, but Kentucky consistently ranks at or near the bottom for broadband access and adoption. As other states enhance their broadband capacities, Kentucky falls further behind, “which is why KentuckyWired is on an aggressive three-year timeframe for substantial completion,” according to the release.
 

Power of the private sector
 

The project will be designed, built, operated and maintained through a 30-year public-private-partnership led by Macquarie Capital and industry partners. The total project is estimated to cost $324 million. The General Assembly allocated $30 million in the 2014 legislative session and $23.5 million in federal funds have been appropriated.
 

Through the P3 approach, the remaining funding will come from the consortium partners. The private partners have a target for hiring Kentuckians.
 

The first beneficiaries of the state’s broadband network will include nearly 1,100 government facilities. Communities are expected to then continue the “build-out” of the last mile connecting fiber to individual homes and businesses.
 

The newly created Kentucky Communications Network Authority and its governing board will manage the KentuckyWired open-access broadband network by overseeing the public-private partnership master agreement with consortium partners. Gov. Beshear created the authority by executive order and attached it to the Office of the Governor.
 


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