The Bluegrass state is well-known for its charming small towns that offer hospitality and beautiful landscapes. However, those familiar with rural living also know that it comes with a variety of challenges. Communities that do not have access to basic infrastructure cannot thrive and may even struggle to survive. Reliable, affordable, high-speed, high-capacity internet access has now become an essential service for individuals and businesses alike. High-speed internet is now as important as electricity, water and sewer.
Kentucky has historically been near the bottom of national and international rankings for broadband speed and capacity. As a result, our commonwealth has been at a disadvantage for attracting business, creating jobs and increasing educational attainment.
Kentuckians are now looking forward to the completion of the statewide fiber broadband network that will change these circumstances. The KentuckyWired project will bring more than 3,000 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber infrastructure, often referred to as the “middle mile” to all 120 Kentucky counties. Access will be provided for state agencies, as well as network capacity for local providers, who can extend last mile infrastructure to local homes and businesses.
As construction of KentuckyWired’s middle mile is underway, the city of London is preparing to take full advantage of the coming resource. London is home to several state agencies and will already have a number of connection points. London also has bigger plans to maximize benefits for their town.
Steve Baker, Superintendent of the London Utility Commission, is the champion for a last mile fiber broadband project in the area. When he first heard about KentuckyWired, it piqued his curiosity and he began taking action. Baker helped to start a community broadband strategic planning process. Over 30 community representatives, from a variety of backgrounds, came together to brainstorm about how access to high-speed, high-capacity broadband could change their world.
“The first step was to decide what London needs and wants. We would get together and imagine how becoming a gigabit town would improve every facet of our community,” Baker said.
The group formed a vision to enhance economic development opportunities, education, healthcare, tourism, and government services. They have developed a scorecard for success that includes affordable access for the entire community, improved quality of life and local control. Baker describes the strategic planning as a “synergistic” experience.
“People from our town began having discussions about how different industries can mutually benefit one another,” he added.
London is partnering with KentuckyWired to increase expansion opportunities by overbuilding 12 miles of fiber in London and Laurel County. KentuckyWired brings a 288-strand fiber optic cable through the area. During installation, London is increasing that capacity by putting in an additional 144 strands of fiber.
London plans to extend last mile lines to industrial parks and retail and commercial business areas, and is examining partnership opportunities with telecommunications and private investors. They are also exploring options for the London Utility Commission to make use of its extensive underground infrastructure with existing easements.
The strategic planning group envisions a future where school children have more abundant and equitable access to the internet. They strive to create an environment where college students have increased ability to thrive in online courses. The group hopes to grow the use of telemedicine in order to better serve as the healthcare hub for the surrounding area. They also aim to increase public safety by bringing access to the latest technologies into the hands of first responders.
As soon as KentuckyWired activates the high-speed, high-capacity broadband network, London is positioned to prosper. Baker feels that it is important for other communities to take advantage of this very unique and very time sensitive opportunity as well. He encourages local leaders across the state to begin conversations with community stakeholders.
“High-speed internet access is not a luxury. You must have it,” Baker said, adding “You can’t wait forever. It is important to leverage while the network is being built to maximize the benefit for your town.”
The Center for Rural Development is dedicated to helping communities explore ways to become “fiber ready.” It is important to note that southern and eastern Kentucky communities have this exceptional resource available to them as they explore how to prepare for the future.
The Center for Rural Development has resources to help communities better understand the process of setting up a broadband board, beginning feasibility studies, strategic planning, data collection, market assessments, and engineering and network designs. The Center also has information about local, state, and federal funds that support the initiative to bring broadband access to rural areas.
The mission of The Center is to positively impact the communities within 45 counties of southern and eastern Kentucky, through supporting the implementation of KentuckyWired infrastructure. The Center is working to close the digital divide. Communities interested in broadband training opportunities are encouraged to contact Larry Combs, Broadband Implementation Manager at The Center.
For more information, call 606-677-6000 or visit www.centertech.com.
Charles Pennington Industrial Park West is one of the areas London plans to provide high-speed, high-capacity fiber broadband internet access. The park currently provides 3,000+ jobs and London hopes to greatly enhance operations for the variety of industries located there.