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U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), at right, and Lonnie Lawson, second from left, president and CEO of The Center for Rural Development, met with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler to discuss broadband expansion in Eastern Kentucky. Wheeler met with area leaders at a roundtable discussion at Hazard Community and Technical College as part of SOAR’s (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) “Broadband and Business Series.”

The Center for Rural Development—a regional leader in technology—is leading the efforts to bring reliable, high-speed Internet to Eastern Kentucky.

U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center, and other area leaders met with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler on a recent trip to McKee and Hazard in Eastern Kentucky to discuss SOAR’s (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) efforts at reducing the rural digital divide.

The “digital divide” is a term that refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don’t or have restricted access.

Rogers invited Wheeler to meet with local leaders about innovative projects that are already underway to utilize the anticipated connection to high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable in the region.

“Chairman Wheeler shared a wealth of insight and expertise on a broad range of telecom issues,” Rogers said. “His visit comes during a critical time in Eastern Kentucky, as our local communities pave the way for broadband access that can transform the way we do business, administer healthcare, and educate our young people.”

“Broadband is the greatest asset of the 21st Century,” Wheeler added. “We are teaching kids how to harness all of the benefits of broadband-enabled technologies; how to have the skills to use this network to not only obtain a job some day, but to grow jobs here.”

More than a dozen panelists discussed the benefits of broadband and how to address the rural digital divide at a roundtable discussion at Hazard Community and Technical College as part of SOAR’s “Broadband and Business Series.”

According to Lawson, The Center began looking at this growing digital disparity in the SOAR region several years ago. “We became very concerned with the increasing frequency of complaints being expressed by businesses, communities, and individuals seeking to actively engage with the digital world,” he said. “If the SOAR region is to participate in national discussions and in the global economy, we simply could not allow these barriers to stand.”

Under Lawson’s direction, The Center has taken a prominent role in addressing the issue of access to affordable high-speed Internet connections in Eastern Kentucky. Along with its own initiatives, The Center has been an active partner with the Commonwealth of Kentucky on the KentuckyWired project.

“What began as a fiber-optic infrastructure project for Eastern Kentucky alone, the Kentucky Super I-Way was quickly recognized and adopted as a model for building a statewide KentuckyWired network,” said Lawson, committee chair of the SOAR Broadband Working Group. “Although these two projects are distinct in purpose, the coordinated and combined efforts of The Center and the Commonwealth, to provide a consolidated solution for all of Kentucky, is a winning approach.”

Kentucky currently ranks 46th in broadband availability and 47th in broadband speed. Approximately 23 percent of rural areas in Kentucky do not have access to broadband.

In the coming months, The Center will be providing free strategic planning sessions to help communities learn how to connect to the new network and will be working to coordinate local efforts with regional planning as the Super I-Way portion of KentuckyWired is deployed.

For more information on broadband expansion, contact Larry Combs, director of business services and technology at The Center, at 606-677-6000.


Study: Mountaintop-removal coal mining has made parts of Central Appalachia 60 percent flatter

Mountaintop removal over the past 40 years has made parts of Central Appalachia 60 percent flatter than before the process began, says a study by Duke University published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Researchers, who say this is the first study "to examine the regional impact of mountaintop mines on landscape topography and how the changes might influence water quality," compared pre- and post-mining topographic data in southern West Virginia.


Headwaters of the Twentymile Creek watershed before and
after mountaintop-removal coal mining (Duke Univ. maps)

"By comparing digitized topographic maps from West Virginia before mountaintop mining became extensive with elevation data collected by aircraft in 2010, the researchers found that the mines and valley fills could range anywhere from 10 to 200 meters deep," Kara Manke reports for Duke Today. "Across the region, the average slope of the land dropped by more than 10 degrees post-mining."

Emily Bernhardt, a professor of biology at Duke and co-author of the study, told Manke, “We tend to measure the impact of human activity based on the area it affects on a map, but mountaintop mining is penetrating much more deeply into the earth than other land use in the region like forestry, agriculture or urbanization.

The depth of these impacts is changing the way the geology, water, and vegetation interact in fundamental ways that are likely to persist far longer than other forms of land use.” (Read more)

Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 2/05/2016 12:33:00 PM

Date: 01-25-2016

Internet pilot program launched

About eight installations are being done every week, Poynter said, and nearly 80 customers have signed up for the service. That is ahead of schedule, he said.

Since the beginning of construction last fall, Owensboro Municipal Utility's pilot "Fiber to the Home" project to deliver high-speed fiber-optic Internet service to residential customers has entered the installation phase, according to Chris Poynter, superintendent of OMU's telecommunications division.

Poynter told the OMU board on Thursday that there are now 15 active customers receiving Internet in the pilot area of the Town and Country neighborhood off Tamarack Road near OMU's Customer Service Center. The subdivision has more than 570 households and a population of almost 1,500 people living in single-family and multifamily homes and apartments.

About eight installations are being done every week, Poynter said, and nearly 80 customers have signed up for the service. That is ahead of schedule, he said.

"So far, the feedback has been positive," Poynter said. "They are very happy with their speeds and the installation process."

The build-out of the pilot project infrastructure is complete, Poynter said. The current phase is hooking up individual homes. The utility is seeking more sign-ups, with a goal of at least 20 percent saturation, which OMU said it expects to exceed.

The projected was budgeted to cost $337,900. The forecast budget is now $397,300, according to Poynter's presentation, with the cost overrun necessary to ensure the best quality. Through December, $265,228 had been spent on the project.

"We don't want to scrimp along in our first foray into fibernet," said OMU General Manager Terry Naulty. "We want to do it right."

OMU, which had been out of the home Internet delivery business for more than eight years, announced almost a year ago that it intended to get back in that business with a pilot program. Instead of providing wireless Internet to residential customers as it did in the 2000s, OMU set out to deliver high-speed Internet to homes by expanding its existing fiber-optic telecommunications network.

OMU is counting on competitive prices and faster speeds to make its home Internet project succeed.

Poynter told the board a year ago that the prices OMU is charging would be highly competitive with other providers of home Internet. For the pilot program, the monthly price for up to 50 megabits per second is $44.99. He said that price is only $5 more per month that what competitors charge for 20 megabits per second. For 100 megabits per second, the OMU price will be $69.99 a month, and for 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second, the price is $99.99 a month. A one-time installation fee of $49.99 is charged, and customers must enter into a one-year contract.

Town and Country residents may sign up for Internet service by calling OMU at 270-926-3200 and speaking to a customer service representative.

By Steve Vied
The Messenger-Inquirer

 

 

MOREHEAD, Ky.---Morehead State University’s Space Probe Lunar IceCube, flying as secondary payload on the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, will investigate the location, distribution and movement of water ice on the lunar surface.

The first flight of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will carry 13 CubeSats to test innovative ideas along with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft in 2018.

These small satellite secondary payloads will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars. SLS’ first flight, referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provides the rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to low-Earth orbit.

“The 13 CubeSats that will fly to deep space as secondary payloads aboard SLS on EM-1 showcase the intersection of science and technology, and advance our journey to Mars,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.

The secondary payloads were selected through a series of announcements of flight opportunities, a NASA challenge and negotiations with NASA’s international partners.

“The SLS is providing an incredible opportunity to conduct science missions and test key technologies beyond low-Earth orbit," said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This rocket has the unprecedented power to send Orion to deep space plus room to carry 13 small satellites – payloads that will advance our knowledge about deep space with minimal cost.”

NASA selected two payloads through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement:

Skyfire - Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Denver, Colorado, will develop a CubeSat to perform a lunar flyby of the moon, taking sensor data during the flyby to enhance our knowledge of the lunar surface.

Lunar IceCube - Morehead State University and its partners, Kentucky, will build a CubeSat to search for water ice and other resources at a low orbit of only 62 miles above the surface of the moon.

Three payloads were selected by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate:

 Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid, take pictures and observe its position in space.

BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space.

Lunar Flashlight will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the lunar surface.

Two payloads were selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate:

CuSP – a “space weather station” to measure particles and magnetic fields in space, testing practicality for a network of stations to monitor space weather.

LunaH-Map will map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions throughout the moon’s south pole.

Three additional payloads will be determined through NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge – sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and designed to foster innovations in small spacecraft propulsion and communications techniques. CubeSat builders will vie for a launch opportunity on SLS’ first flight through a competition that has four rounds, referred to as ground tournaments, leading to the selection in 2017 of the payloads to fly on the mission.

NASA has also reserved three slots for payloads from international partners. Discussions to fly those three payloads are ongoing, and they will be announced at a later time.

On this first flight, SLS will launch the Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon to demonstrate the integrated system performance of Orion and the SLS rocket prior to the first crewed flight. The first configuration of SLS that will fly on EM-1 is referred to as Block I and will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability and be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines. The CubeSats will be deployed following Orion separation from the upper stage and once Orion is a safe distance away. Each payload will be ejected with a spring mechanism from dispensers on the Orion stage adapter. Following deployment, the transmitters on the CubeSats will turn on, and ground stations will listen for their beacons to determine the functionality of these small satellites.

“The Lunar IceCube mission along with the other EM-1 CubeSats will usher in a new era of space exploration based on innovative nanosatellite technologies,” according to the program manager Dr. Benjamin Malphrus, chair of MSU’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences.  “Morehead State and its partners, the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, JPL, the Busek Company and Vermont Tech, have an extraordinary opportunity to be a part of this historical flight and involved in the beginning of this new “age of space exploration.”

For more information about NASA’s Journey to Mars  (www.nasa.gov/journeytomars)

 For additional information on Lunar IceCube (http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/lunar-icecube-to-take-on-big-mission-from-small-package) visit or call MSU’s Space Science Center at 606-783-2381.

Date: 01-24-2016

Some telecoms, anti-government groups oppose new state broadband network...

(Editor's Note: Contains observations from the writer.)

A year after state officials created a nationally recognized public-private partnership to build America’s best statewide broadband network, opponents are trying to kill it.

Some telecom and cable companies that now provide Internet service around the state, along with several right-wing advocacy groups, are pushing legislators and Gov. Matt Bevin to rethink the project, called KentuckyWired.

KentuckyWired was created as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative organized by former Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Somerset and chairman of the House Appropriations committee.

The high-speed, fiber-optic network is to be managed and ultimately paid for by private industry. But it will be owned by the public and offer open access to any Internet service provider.

KentuckyWired officials say this network and its innovative structure could be a boon for economic development, giving businesses and homes better service, more choice and more competitive prices.

But AT&T has filed a protest over the state’s process for awarding school Internet service contracts, many of which it now has. The Kentucky Telecom Association, which represents 15 rural Internet providers, thinks KentuckyWired should be reconsidered, claiming it would duplicate existing infrastructure and undermine existing businesses that need their state and school service contracts. (In Lawrence County it is the local cable companies who have no-bid contractsd with the school system)

The telecoms are getting backup from libertarian advocacy groups that object on principal to government-owned broadband networks. A common thread among these groups is that they have received money from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have given hundreds of millions of dollars to politicians and advocacy groups to try to limit government’s power to regulate, tax and provide public services.

The Koch brothers were recently in the news for partnering with Louisville’s richest man, Papa John’s Pizza founder John Schnatter, and the University of Kentucky to create a $10 million John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise in the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

Among the groups fighting KentuckyWired are the Indiana-based Coalition for the New Economy, which opposes public broadband efforts; and the Taxpayer Protection Alliance in Washington, D.C.; and the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions. KentuckyWired also has received critical coverage from a Koch-supported news website, Watchdog.org.

How KentuckyWired works

KentuckyWired is a partnership between the state and several companies that are building and would operate the 3,200-mile “middle-mile” network linking all 120 counties. From each county, any Internet provider could lease network space, build “last-mile” lines and compete to offer services to homes and businesses.

The state has invested $30 million and issued $232 million in tax-exempt bonds and $57 million in taxable bonds for the project. Australia-based Macquarie Capital and its partners will build and operate the network for 30 years. The federal government, mostly through the Appalachian Regional Commission, has contributed $23.5 million.

The arrangement won The Bond Buyer newspaper’s 2015 Deal of the Year award for the nation’s most innovative public infrastructure financing project.

Macquarie will pay off the bonds and earn a return on investment over 30 years, mainly by providing 1,100 state offices and schools with what it claims will be faster, less-expensive Internet service than what most of them now get from telecom and cable companies using proprietary networks.

Macquarie will wholesale network space to other service providers, promoting competition and giving the state a 75 percent cut of the revenue. Nicholas Hann, Macquarie’s senior managing director, said that could amount to “tens of millions” of dollars a year.

The Kentucky Telecom Association thinks KentuckyWired needs more legislative scrutiny, because the Beshear administration withdrew a request for proposals for providing broadband service to public schools after questions were raised at a legislative committee meeting in October.

The KTA claims taxpayers could face financial liability if the network doesn’t meet financial goals. Macquarie’s Hann disputes that.

Tyler Campbell, the KTA’s executive director, also said KentuckyWired isn’t necessary because most parts of the state already have adequate broadband speeds and service through private networks, which companies are continually improving.

There are small pockets of Kentucky, including several in the mountains, that have excellent fiber-optic broadband. But that is more the result of federal grants than private investment. Several systems — such as People’s Rural Telephone Cooperative in Jackson and Owsley counties — took advantage of economic stimulus money early in President Obama’s tenure to build modern fiber-optic networks.

Independent studies have given Kentucky low rankings nationally for broadband availability, service and cost. Complaining about slow, expensive Internet has become almost as popular a topic of statewide conversation as UK basketball.

Hann said KentuckyWired is working to negotiate partnerships with already-modern local broadband systems, but Campbell said he doesn’t know of any deals that have been reached. Such deals could have a big effect on KentuckyWired’s support among legislators.

Importance of broadband

Throughout the 1800s, Kentucky replaced a patchwork of private, tolled turnpikes with state-owned roads. Could you imagine relying on privately owned highways now? Toyota might build roads only for Toyotas — Fords and Chevys charged extra, or not allowed.

Broadband is often called the highway of modern commerce, so having a publicly owned middle-mile network open to all competitors just makes sense.

Jim Host, Republican entrepreneur who helped put together the KentuckyWired partnership

No other piece of physical infrastructure could be more important to economic success in the 21st century and beyond than broadband. More widespread availability of affordable, truly high-speed Internet offers the promise that companies and entrepreneurs could set up shop in rural Kentucky and be as electronically connected to the rest of the world as any of their competitors.

“Of all the things I’ve been involved with, this is the best for the future of the Commonwealth,” said Jim Host, one of the state’s most prominent Republican entrepreneurs who helped put together the KentuckyWired partnership.

It is unclear what opponents can do to derail KentuckyWired at this point, other than nixing Macquarie’s contract to provide state government and school services that are needed to make the financial package work. That would likely result in litigation that could be very costly to taxpayers. Construction on the network has already begun, and plans call for it to be completed statewide by the end of 2018.

The politics of this could get ugly. Will our new Republican governor side with the libertarian radicals of his Tea Party base or the second most-powerful Kentucky Republican in Congress?

But the stakes are much higher than that. Will Bevin and legislators choose to protect the turf of Kentucky’s telecoms and cable companies, or proceed with a bipartisan plan for giving Kentucky companies and entrepreneurs an important tool to succeed in the modern economy? Opportunities like KentuckyWired don’t come around often. Let’s not blow it.

 

By Tom Eblen, columnist
Lexington Herald-Leader