Osborne says project will benefit Lawrence County
HAZARD – High-speed Internet is coming to all Kentucky counties, and supporters say the broadband project will be the key catalyst for growth in job creation, health access and education.
To celebrate the construction of the statewide KentuckyWired, I-Way broadband network, Gov. Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, state and local officials and citizens gathered at Hazard Community and Technical College to learn more about KentuckyWired and how Kentucky’s future will benefit from broadband, a state news release said.
Lawrence County Judge/Executive John Osborne and Economic Development staff member Catrina Vargo attended the meeting.
Osborne said demonstrations were given during the event showing the power and importance of high speed broadband including skype communication.
“He had a really nice connection showing, which explained a lot to me,” Osborne, who does not profess to being a computer whiz, said. Osborne also said a session was shown with NASA Astronaut, Butch Wilmore who talked about how important communication is in space.
Bob Schena, CEO of Rajant, spoke about the kinetic mesh company that just opened in Morehead, (which created several jobs here in eastern Ky.) who talked about new wireless devices and electronic connections to the web.
The last two demonstrations were in the field of healthcare where a patient can receive a full exam by a specialist through a robot, and the Blue Angels Program by UK Telecare which brings high risk obstetrics care to rural Kentucky.
“These are great examples of how this new broadband technology can boost communications to another level, and to know it will be in place in eastern KY within a couple years is good news for us,” said Judge Osborne.
Vargo said, “This type of fiber will make us equal with the rest of the world as far as communication goes, which is a major factor companies look at when locating in a new area.”
The broadband project will begin in eastern Kentucky and over the next three years will spread throughout the state. The benefits of broadband will break down geographic and financial barriers to education and economic development by providing access to affordable, high-quality Internet service to connect Kentuckians to the world.
“This is an exciting day,” Beshear said in a statement. “The potential for every Kentuckian to tap into the global economy, compete for higher paying jobs, collaborate with researchers across the globe, take classes online, or access increased medical care make KentuckyWired one of the most important infrastructure projects in our state’s history. While KentuckyWired is starting in the east, this network will cover approximately 3,400 miles across the state to bring badly needed Internet access closer to all our communities.”
The push for reliable, accessible and affordable high-speed broadband is one recommendation that emerged from the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) initiative. That recommendation, along with the continuing loss of coal jobs, has been the reason for starting the project in the SOAR region. As a long-time technology leader in the region, The Center for Rural Development partnered with the state to guide the eastern Kentucky phase of the project.
The leaders also called on communities and local providers to get ready for the project by preparing the “last mile,” or the Internet hookups from the broadband “highway” to individual homes and businesses.
“Thanks to the I-Way, we will essentially have endless capacity and endless connectivity,” Rogers said in the news release. “The only limit is our creativity. It’s up to us to put this resource to work for economic diversity, job creation and improved opportunities for the people of eastern Kentucky.”
Broadband is an ‘economic lifeline’
Broadband means a wide band of frequencies is available to transmit data, similar to multiple lanes on an interstate highway that allow more cars to travel at the same time. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission increased the broadband standard to 25 mbps, which means even more Kentuckians do not have service at the minimum level.
KentuckyWired will build the state’s middle-mile fiber network and will provide wholesale access to local Internet service providers who can extend fiber to homes and businesses.
“Consider the KentuckyWired project to be similar to building a highway through the state, and then local communities will build out the roads leading from the highway to neighborhoods and businesses,” Steve Rucker, deputy secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet, said. “We need our communities to make plans now for building those ‘last miles’ to citizens.”
Broadband, like electricity, water and sewer, is an essential service in the 21st century economy, but Kentucky consistently ranks at or near the bottom for broadband access and adoption, the news release said.
“Today’s businesses require round-the-clock availability to markets around the world. Every inventory record, product order and accounting system demands strong Internet service in order to communicate with customers, suppliers and headquarters,” Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR, said. “Spotty, overpriced Internet service repels new business and stifles entrepreneurship. KentuckyWired is bringing fiber to our communities, and it can’t get here fast enough. It’s a literal economic lifeline.”
Project leverages the power of the private sector
The project will be designed, built, operated and maintained through a 30-year public-private-partnership led by Macquarie Capital and industry partners. These partners have executed community fiber projects across the country, but note that Kentucky’s is the largest P3 fiber partnership in the country, and the only one which is fully open-access.
The total project is estimated to cost $324 million. The General Assembly allocated $30 million in the 2014 legislative session and $23.5 million in federal funds have been appropriated. The remaining funding will come from the consortium partners. The private partners have a target for hiring Kentuckians.
“If we were to rely solely on state government funding to get this project off the ground, it would take years, if not decades. Those kinds of tax dollars just aren’t available,” Beshear said. “Today we are celebrating how fast we’ve been able to put this project together by working with the private sector.”
“Access to high-speed, broadband Internet resources is vital to students, teachers, business people and commerce,” said Bob King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education. “High-speed access eliminates physical, geographic and academic isolation and will open up the SOAR region to the world.