We want to respectfully clarify information from an oped recently published in this space, which stated in its headline: “Eastern Kentucky must have broadband for education and entrepreneurs to thrive.”
The premise was accurate – the region needs broadband. But the theme about Kentucky lacking the necessary broadband infrastructure is incorrect.
That infrastructure exists. It is the KentuckyWired network. In fact, Kentucky is the only state in the nation to build such infrastructure — a high-speed, fiber-optic cable extending more than 3,000 miles to connect every one of its counties.
You might compare that cable to an interstate highway that passes through each county. With the cable installed, individual county governments and local internet service providers (ISPs) can begin building “exit ramps,” extending the broadband into underserved areas. With the “highway” in place, the entire state has access to the same high-speed network.
The network is now available for Eastern Kentucky business and industry, health care operations, agribusinesses, government offices and others. These entities, along with ISPs, can access the network through Accelecom, a newly formed company that is the exclusive KentuckyWired provider.
The recent op-ed said “building the necessary infrastructure… would take years and the costs would be staggering.” The Commonwealth has a major head start with the KentuckyWired middle-mile network already being completed and budgeted. This should not be taken lightly as most states do not have this infrastructure. However, to that oped’s point, work remains to be done on last-mile, where local providers connect homes and businesses to this middle-mile backbone.
This endeavor was not easy, nor inexpensive. But similar to public utilities such as water and electricity, making internet available to all Kentuckians begins with building statewide infrastructure.
The KentuckyWired infrastructure concept was created jointly nearly a decade ago by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and former Governor Steve Beshear. The idea was first sparked at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, and broad support quickly spread for this expansive broadband infrastructure plan through the early work of SOAR – Shaping Our Appalachian Region. Expanded broadband connectivity in Kentucky’s rural Appalachian region is a critical key to future economic development opportunities. Dozens of current and past elected officials from both parties, as well as business leaders, economic development advocates, educators and agribusinesses, have supported KentuckyWired and kept it moving forward.
Kentucky ranks 45th (by the U.S. Census Bureau) in the percentage of residents with access to high-speed internet, and 47th in percentage of residents with internet subscriptions. With completion of the KentuckyWired project, Kentucky can move into the top 10 in both rankings.
But more than an impressive ranking, this infrastructure will place the entire Commonwealth on a solid foundation for building reliable high-speed internet for all. With that comes new economic and employment opportunities, as well as improved access to health care through telehealth.
The KentuckyWired infrastructure is the “middle mile” and does not, by itself, connect the underserved. But without this comprehensive statewide middle mile in place, efforts to connect rural areas would largely continue to be piecemeal, leaving large gaps in service where it’s needed the most.
For many communities, this will require time and patience. No doubt, it can be expensive to run final-mile internet lines through rural areas, but options for funding and grants are available, with more being explored. Accelecom, in some instances, can provide guidance to ISPs in pursuit of funding.
In countless ways, reliable internet can help break down barriers of isolation and create opportunities, and KentuckyWired has miles of framework in place to build a brighter future for Kentuckians in every county.
David Flessas is CEO of Accelecom. This piece was also signed by Lonnie Lawson, the president and CEO of The Center for Rural Development and Colby Hall, executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR).