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December 11, 2019

Discussions from Broadband and Barbecue: Connecting Rural Communities

The Center for Rural Development, in partnership with SOAR, recently brought together community leaders from Southern and Eastern Kentucky for an informative broadband workshop in Hazard, KY. The event, dubbed “Broadband and Barbecue: Connecting Rural Communities”, served as a platform for discussion about the future of broadband in the state.

Conversations centered on how to improve access to high-speed, affordable broadband and how to leverage that connectivity to grow local economies. In order to address numerous aspects of the topic of broadband, the event was divided into several sessions. The day kicked off with a Remote Work Panel that provided employer, local government, and remote workers perspectives.

Human Resource Business Partner Manager for General Dynamics IT, Cheryl Ellis explained that her company uses Teleworks USA hub site facilities in Hazard and Cumberland to provide training to employees and then deploys them to work from home. “We are planning to hire more people,” said Ellis. “This particular program that we work for will be hiring probably anywhere from 100 to 300 more people,” she added. “You know Hal Rogers said we were gonna have Silicon Holler. Well we’ve got a good start,” said Ellis.

Lee County Judge-Executive, Chuck Caudill discussed the impact that improved connectivity is having for rural youth. “We’re seeing young people who have had to leave and they don’t have to leave anymore. Those who want to still have the opportunity, but now if they want to work for a company where they have a future, they can start and not leave Eastern Kentucky,” said Caudill.

This sentiment echoes the words of U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, for whom The Center for Rural Development’s Rogers Scholars program is named. Rogers has often shared his beliefs that “we must stop exporting our young talent,” and “no young person should have to leave home to find his or her future.”

The day continued at the “Broadband and Barbecue” event with a Business and Startup Panel. Tim Hughes with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture shared how improved broadband access is shaping agriculture. “In Kentucky we have farms throughout the state that are utilizing lots of interconnectivity and technology,” said Hughes. He discussed several examples of businesses across the state that are implementing new technologies to monitor crops and cattle, connect farmers to buyers, and various other applications. “It’s amazing the technology that’s out there,” said Hughes.

Jamie Couch with AdventHealth in Manchester provided insights into advances in telehealth that are taking place in rural Kentucky. “Senate bill 112 is going to open the Gateway to provide an increased amount of telemedicine to our communities,” said Couch. Telehealth in Manchester is already providing new health resources to the Clay County Detention Center, nursing homes, and local residents. “We’ve been able to partner with University of Kentucky to keep our patients home, in their home clinics,” said Couch.

Jared Arnett wrapped up the second panel discussion noting, “We still have communities that aren’t being served adequately with broadband.” Arnett continued, “I can promise if they are connected, the opportunity and transformation just increases exponentially. So I believe we’ve got a duty to come together as a region and figure out: How do we continue to build out and expand broadband?”

After attendees enjoyed networking time during a lunch break that included tasty barbecue, the focus of the day shifted to current efforts to expand access to high-speed, high-capacity broadband across the state.

Mike Hayden, COO at the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA) described how KentuckyWired will soon bring a middle-mile fiber network to fruition in Kentucky. He shared that capabilities that are being put in place within the network will allow access “to be pushed farther and farther out, at a much more economical basis.”

Larry Combs, Broadband Implementation Manager at The Center for Rural Development, then turned the discussion toward funding opportunities offered through The Center. Combs shared that funds are available for training for those who have been impacted by the decline of the coal industry. He also mentioned funding assistance for Certified Fiber Optic Technician courses offered through KCTCS.

However, the main focus of Comb’s remarks were in regard to The Center’s Technology Assistance Program (TAP). Combs walked through the application process for TAP funding which helps communities begin asset mapping, perform feasibility studies, and conduct pre-engineering analysis of community fiber projects or other activities that will extend the reach of the KentuckyWired fiber infrastructure.

The “Broadband and Barbecue” event wrapped up with a final panel conversation with last-mile providers. Providers represented on the panel included Peoples Rural Telephone, Eastern Telephone and Technologies, Thacker-Grigsby Telephone, and MetroNet Inc.

Communities interested in more information about The Center’s TAP funding and broadband training opportunities are encouraged to contact The Center at broadbandinfo@centertech.com or 606-677-6000. More information about TAP can be found at https://centertech.com/2019/01/technology-assistance-program-tap/

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