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social-networking_1100030699-012814-intConstruction on a high-speed Internet service network is expected to start this August in Eastern Kentucky and then spread throughout the state.

Macquarie Capital, an Australian company, is heading a group of companies to design and build the fiber optic network. Macquarie will operate the system over a 30-year contract, but the state of Kentucky will own it.

The push for reliable, accessible high-speed broadband is one recommendation that emerged from “SOAR,” the “Shaping Our Appalachian Region” initiative that seeks to move Kentucky’s Appalachian region forward.

The initial phase of the project is scheduled to take two years to build and will include more than 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure, often referred to as the “middle mile” — a high-speed link between the global Internet and communities.

Lonnie Lawson, president of The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, told the Lexington Herald Leader there is still a lot of work to be done in figuring out how to spread broadband throughout counties from the local access points that will be created.

“We’ve really got to make that our next push” after the middle-mile network is done, Lawson said.

Kentucky currently ranks 46th in high-speed broadband Internet availability. Nearly a quarter of the Commonwealth’s population – 23 percent – has no access to broadband.

About the SOAR initiative

The SOAR initiative was launched by Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, (KY-05) in late 2013, after a stunning downturn in the coal market exacerbated historic challenges in Eastern Kentucky related to unemployment and poverty. SOAR is intended to help the region develop and put into action new locally-oriented strategies to attack persistent challenges.