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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

DECEMBER 7, 2015

Project beat out seven other regional winners for top award from The Bond Buyer

FRANKFORT, Ky. – KentuckyWired beat out seven other regional winners in being named The Bond Buyer’s 2015 ‘Deal of the Year’ last night at an awards ceremony in New York City.  The Kentucky Economic Development Authority earned the award in recognition of its $232 million tax-exempt bond transaction for construction of the 3,200-plus mile broadband project.

“I am tremendously excited about this award, as it puts us in great company across the country,” said Gov. Steve Beshear.  “This award is one more example of Kentucky’s innovative and forward-thinking strategy to fund one of the largest and most significant infrastructure projects in our state’s history. As the largest public-private partnership in the nation for public technology, KentuckyWired will bring broadband connectivity to every county in the Commonwealth.”

“Nominees this year faced stiff competition from many eminently qualified deals,” said Michael Scarchilli, editor in chief of The Bond Buyer. “We chose the finalists for innovation, the ability to pull complex transactions together under challenging conditions, the ability to serve as a model for other financings and the public purpose for which a deal’s proceeds were used."

KentuckyWired is the fiber optic infrastructure to bring high-speed Internet service across the state, which currently ranks at or near the bottom of the country in broadband speeds and availability. There will be access points in every county with nearly 1,100 government facilities connected to the network. Because the network is open access, local internet service providers can tap into the network to deliver last-mile service to homes and businesses.

“It has been a privilege for our team to work on the KentuckyWired project and I appreciate all the long hours and innovative thinking they brought to the table,” said Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Lori H. Flanery. “We have broken new ground, both literally and figuratively, with this public-private partnership with Macquarie Capital and their consortium partners.”

Kentucky was in prestigious company and in strong competition for Deal of the Year.  Other regional winners that vied for the top award included:

“Macquarie Capital and its partners are extremely proud to be a part of the KentuckyWired project,” said Nicholas Hann, senior managing director and co-head of North American PPPs at Macquarie. “This innovative, open access network positions Kentucky to provide the best high-speed internet services to homes and businesses while increasing the state’s capacity for long-term economic growth. We firmly believe that the public-private partnership model is well-established and enables projects like KentuckyWired to be completed on an accelerated timetable while transferring risk to the private sector.”

Deal of the Year Awards represent the full diversity of the communities and public purposes that are served by the municipal finance market, from the largest to the smallest deals. The awards were open to transactions that closed between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 25, 2015. Kentucky’s transaction closed on Sept. 3, 2015 and was well received in the marketplace.

Short videos of all award winners are available online at http://www.bondbuyer.com/special-reports/the-bond-buyers-14th-annual-deal-of-the-year-awards-1088267-1.html.

Date: 10-28-2015

New website creates online access to Commercial Driver License documents

Kentucky Press News Service

FRANKFORT – Commercial vehicle drivers now can go online to verify that their certifications for a commercial driver license (CDL) are up to date.

It’s all thanks to a new website, launched by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Division of Driver Licensing.

BUS DRIVERS TEST - School bus drivers in Ky. are required to have a CDL license along with the thousands of commercial drivers.“With our new website, drivers can access records 24 hours a day,” Rodney Kuhl, Commissioner of the cabinet’s Department of Vehicle Regulation, said in a news release. “We realize most CDL drivers don’t work on a 9-to-5 schedule. The website will allow them access when the time is right for them.”

Kentucky requires multiple documents in order to be issued and hold a CDL. They include a self-certification form identifying the type of driving the operator expects to engage in once a license is in hand. In addition, CDL holders must have a valid medical certification card on file at all times. A commercial application must also include a 10-year driver history, listing all states in which the driver had a license.

The information must be forwarded to the Division of Driver Licensing and posted prior to a driver applying for a license at a circuit court clerk’s office.

The website, which is for informational purposes only, will allow drivers to ensure everything has been received and on file, keeping them current on all requirements.

Checking a driver’s status on the website requires the driver’s name, Kentucky license number and date of birth. User instructions can be found on the website.

The new website is but the latest in a series of innovations undertaken by the cabinet during Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration to enhance customer service, convenience and public transparency:

NOVEMBER 6, 2015

SCAM ALERT!

"...We have been receiving several calls in reference to phone calls where the
message or the person on the phone says they are from the IRS and leave a
phone number to call back with threatening that the person they called
will be arrested or will be sued for taxes.

This scam aimed at obtainingpersonal information for use in identity theft.

No one should give out personal information over the phone if they are not
100% sure whom they are speaking with. Any agency that you do business
with should already have your information and should not need you to
verify it over the phone.


Chief Deputy Mark Wheeler
Lawrence County Sheriff's Office

Date: 10-23-2015

  The Kentucky State Police Telecommunications Academy Class No. 7 graduated on October 22, 2015. The class included (left to right): Megan Patrick (KSP Post 14-Ashland), Ryan Benton (KSP Post 8-Morehead), Kris Cox (KSP Post 8-Morehead), Kimberly Crase (KSP Post 8-Morehead), Merissa Breedlove (KSP Post 1-Mayfield), Katelyn Roy (KSP Post 6-Dry Ridge), Tammy Crady (KSP Post 12-Frankfort) and Chris Cornett (KSP Post 12-Frankfort).

Kentucky Press News Service

Eight Kentucky State Police telecommunicators from throughout the commonwealth were recognized Friday at graduation ceremonies for the seventh class of the agency’s in-house Telecommunications Academy.

“Across the state, KSP telecommunicators provide a lifeline to both citizens in need and officers in the field,” says KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer. “They serve as an unseen, but vital link in keeping law enforcement officers and the public safe at all times of the day or night.”

Representing five agency posts, the group began its studies on September 14, 2015 at the KSP Training Academy in Frankfort. The course provided 236 hours of instruction during a six-week period. The curriculum included subjects such as legal liability, limits of telecommunicator authority, the telecommunicator’s role in public safety, interpersonal communications, customer service, interaction with the news media, stress, ethics and confidentiality, responder safety, basic fire dispatch, state emergency operations plans, criminal justice information systems, cardio pulmonary resuscitation, first aid training, emergency medical dispatch and special needs callers.

The final week of the academy included training on computer-aided dispatch and other databases. To complete the course, the telecommunicators were required to successfully process scripted calls for service and demonstrate proficiency in obtaining pertinent information, dispatching responders, providing emergency medical dispatch if needed and correctly documenting information from the call for service.

The graduates of the seventh KSP Telecommunications Academy included:

Merissa Breedlove, Post 1, Mayfield
Katelyn Roy, Post 6, Dry Ridge
Ryan Benton, Post 8, Morehead
Kris Cox, Post 8, Morehead
Kimberly Crase, Post 8, Morehead
Chris Cornett, Post 12, Frankfort
Tammy Crady, Post 12, Frankfort
Megan Patrick, Post 14, Ashland

Chris Cornett of Post 12-Frankfort was the class valedictorian with an overall grade point average of 96 percent.

According to Jason Long, Law Enforcement Training Instructor at the Kentucky State Police Academy, working in today’s emergency services communications center requires a number of qualities and characteristics that are absolutely imperative. These characteristics include the ability to handle very stressful, challenging conditions, maintaining a flexible work schedules, practicing empathy in dealing with others and having the ability to learn and adapt, especially in areas of technology.

His advice to those who may be considering the field as a career? “You need to think hard about whether you are willing to make the sacrifices you have to make. You have to spend time away from your family. You have to work weekends and holidays. With all the continuing training required, there is a big investment of time and you need to be sure you can make the commitment.”

“To be honest, it’s not a job for everyone,” he says. “It is stressful and challenging and some people simply can’t deal with the types of calls and deadly incidents that we have to handle.”