Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear have announced plans for the Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway project, providing critically needed high-speed broadband Internet access to the Commonwealth. The project is estimated to cost $100 million, and could take up to three years to build nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure, which is often referred to as “middle” mile dark fiber. The underserved eastern Kentucky region will be the first priority for the project.
“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 Internet to reduce barriers of geography for businesses and citizens.
The Center for Rural Development has been a key player in planning for the expansion of broadband in southern and eastern Kentucky for two years. In partnership with the Commonwealth, The Center will lead the first phase of broadband expansion in eastern Kentucky. With a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, The Center has initiated a feasibility study that will outline the costs and plans of laying dark fiber to meet broadband needs in eastern Kentucky. The study is anticipated to be completed by the end of January.
“The expansion of high-speed broadband is a monumental step in improving the quality of life for citizens in Kentucky, but especially rural populations that are underserved and struggling,” said Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center for Rural Development. “High speed broadband opens many doors of opportunity for business expansion and attraction in high-growth industries, employment, education, and healthcare. It will help us realize the possibilities coming from the SOAR Initiative and allow us to compete in an interconnected global economy.”
Congressman Rogers and Governor Beshear are making the broadband project a part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR Initiative. Last month, Beshear and 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. The summit report is available online at http://www.governor.ky.gov/SOAR. Lack of high-speed broadband access was frequently cited as an impediment to economic development, Rogers said.
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.”
The project will incorporate the current and best available technology at a speed of up to 100 gigabits per second.
“Planning for broadband expansion has brought together many partners who care about improving the lives of our citizens,” Lawson said. “In addition to the leadership provided by Congressman Rogers and Governor Beshear, efforts to create critical technology infrastructure in eastern Kentucky would not have been possible without the extraordinary participation and commitment of the Commonwealth Office of Technology, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, the University of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. The collaborative approach used to guide this project is exactly the approach that will lift up our poorest communities and transform them into our best.”
A press conference announcing the Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway Project was held on January 22nd. The press conference can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdmWIppPffM&app=desktop
Established in 1996 through the vision of U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, (KY-05), and other leaders, The Center for Rural Development is a nonprofit organization fueled by a mission to provide leadership that stimulates innovative and sustainable economic development solutions and a better way of life in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. In its 42-county primary service region, The Center provides innovative programs in leadership, public safety, technology, and arts and culture. The Center is committed to constantly expanding its capabilities in order to deliver a range of key services throughout Kentucky and the nation.