Governor Steve Beshear joined Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers today to announce an ambitious state and federal investment to extend critically-needed high-speed broadband Internet access to the furthest reaches of the Commonwealth.
The underserved eastern Kentucky region will be the first priority area for the project, which will be supported by $60 million in state bonds and $40 million in federal and private sources.
“Access to high-speed and high-quality Internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity in the 21st century economy. Businesses and schools demand it,” said Gov. Beshear. “Our communities that lack reliable high-speed access will lag behind in economic development, distance learning and advanced health technologies, and that’s unacceptable.”
“The new ‘Super I-way’ will level the playing field,” said Congressman Rogers. “It takes away our historic barriers to better jobs, the difficult terrain and isolation. All of a sudden, the world is flat and the famed superior work ethic of our people will be able to compete with the world from home.”
Currently, Kentucky ranks 46th in high-speed broadband Internet availability. Nearly a quarter of the Commonwealth’s population — 23 percent — have no access to broadband. The Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway will offer affordable and accessible high-speed broadband to reduce the barriers of geography for businesses and citizens.
The Commonwealth will partner with the Center for Rural Development for the first phase of the project in eastern Kentucky, leveraging various federal funds and private investment to attain access throughout the region. The Center has initiated a feasibility study that will be complete in the next several weeks outlining the costs and plans of meeting eastern Kentucky’s broadband needs.
“I want to thank Gov. Beshear and Congressman Rogers for their leadership in giving the people of Eastern Kentucky a reason to hope and to have a brighter future,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo. “Projects like this are crucial, because high-speed internet is an absolute must for our region to succeed in economic development, education, healthcare and elsewhere.”
“Bringing high-speed internet to Eastern Kentucky will, in essence, flatten the mountains and put our region on a level playing field with the rest of the state,” said Senate President Robert Stivers. “This access is a critical step in strengthening our region, as we set out to do in the SOAR conference.”
Internet access isn’t high-speed broadband
Most households in the state have access to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), but that’s not the same as high-speed broadband. Broadband is considered “always on”, and is capable of carrying much larger amounts of information to a larger group of users.
As the federal definition of broadband changes, and minimum speed increases (often in megabits per second, or MBS), Kentucky falls further behind because the service available to citizens does not meet these minimum qualifications.
Today, only about half of the state’s households use broadband service, and nearly one-quarter can’t access broadband at all.
“That’s not acceptable,” said Gov. Beshear. “We cannot get companies to even consider locating in an area that doesn’t have broadband. This is just one reason high-speed broadband Internet is important for the entire economy of Kentucky, not just urban areas.”
Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway to expand fiber infrastructure
The initial phase of the Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway project, estimated to cost approximately $100 million, could take up two to three years to build nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure, which is often referred to as the “middle” mile.
The project will incorporate the current and best available technology at a speed of up to 100 gigabits per second. Where available, existing fiber will be used.
“This world-class Internet infrastructure will bring high-speed Internet, or broadband, closer to communities throughout the state,” said Lori H. Flanery, secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet. “It opens up possibilities for Kentuckians to connect with the world at the highest speeds available, allowing them to truly participate in today’s global environment.”
Since 2010, the Kentucky Office of Broadband Outreach and Development in the Finance and Administration Cabinet has focused on identifying and mapping areas across the state that are unserved or underserved by affordable broadband service. Using that information and working with public partners, such as the Council on Postsecondary Education, along with private providers, the Finance and Administration Cabinet provided guidance to the governor about the Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway project.
The initiative will be a partnership of government at all levels and the private sector. The private-public partnership – often referred to as a P3 – allows the state to leverage resources to fill service gaps.
“This investment by the Commonwealth will pay dividends for years to come,” Gov. Beshear said. “Much like previous generations’ efforts to build our sewer and water systems, the electric grid and paved highways, this initiative will solidify Kentucky’s place in the new global economy.”
A number of obstacles have prevented the full expansion of high-speed broadband into every home and business. Those issues include:
· Sparse population: It’s a numbers game. When there’s not enough population to allow the service provider to get a return on investment, expansion doesn’t take place.
· Affordability: Kentucky has a significant number of people who are at or near the poverty threshold. Broadband typically costs $20 or more per month, making it a luxury many Kentuckians assume they can’t afford.
· Attitude: Many people have access and can afford high-speed broadband, but choose not to subscribe because they think they don’t need it.
Initial Steps Underway
The Finance and Administration Cabinet is receiving responses to a request for proposal from consultants who are interested in working on the Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway project. The consultant will validate cost estimates and provide guidance on the most efficient and effective way to proceed with the project.
The project is slated to begin in eastern Kentucky, closely aligning the state’s efforts with the Center for Rural Development and the “S.O.A.R.: Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative in created by Gov. Beshear, U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers and other local and state leaders in that region.
Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers organized the SOAR Summit to gather ideas and recommendations about how to move Kentucky’s Appalachian region forward. The SOAR Summit, held in Pikeville on Dec. 9, attracted more than 1,700 Kentuckians. Its report, released last week, is available online at http://www.governor.ky.gov/SOAR and through state libraries.
Since the summit, Gov. Beshear has helped announce the recent federal designation of a Promise Zone in eastern Kentucky, the four-laning of the Mountain Parkway, a $2.6 million business loan pool for the region and USDA StrikeForce designation for rural area investments in eastern Kentucky.