FRANKFORT – Three months ago, when the Washington Post ran a story comparing peak broadband internet speeds among the states, the news for Kentucky was not good: We came in last, behind Arkansas. Our rate is half of what can be found in Virginia, which placed second.
That same article did point out, however, that significant change is on the horizon for the commonwealth. It noted that we are in the early stages of investing as much as $350 million to increase internet speeds dramatically. Construction along the I-75 corridor and Eastern Kentucky is set to start soon, and the 3,000-mile project, which will reach into all 120 counties, should be complete by the fall of 2018.
Gov. Beshear, legislative leaders and Congressman Hal Rogers announced this initiative early last year, and the General Assembly included $30 million in the budget to get it started. The federal government is providing millions of dollars as well, but private interests will cover most of the rest.
This is not something homes and businesses will tap into directly. Officials call it the “middle mile,” since it will form the backbone that providers will use to cover that “last mile” connecting Kentuckians to the rest of the online world.
As recently as the early 2000s, broadband internet could largely be considered a luxury, but that is no longer the case. Those without it, or without adequate speeds, suffer.
The state’s Department of Education underscored its importance just last week, when it announced that it had added more than 30 school districts to a pilot program that allows virtual learning on snow days. This could help these districts avoid having to make up as much as two weeks’ worth of classes.
It doesn’t require much thinking to come up with a dozen or more positive uses of broadband in our daily lives. Unfortunately, nearly a fourth of our rural citizens have no ready access, and we are paying far more for the service we do get. Nationally, it costs residential customers $3.51 for each megabyte-per-second download speed, but in some of our counties, that cost is nearly four times as high.
As we begin moving forward with this game-changing project, it’s important to note that Kentucky has had success in other ways when it comes to the internet. State government routinely gets high marks for its online presence, for example, and our libraries are playing a major role in helping citizens who may not have high-speed internet at home.
Last Friday, Kentucky House leaders said they had formed a special committee that will focus specifically on technological issues between now and the end of the year. Its first meeting, set to take place early this week, will cover the progress of the state’s broadband project.
There is no doubt that it holds a considerable amount of promise for the commonwealth, and once it is up and running, we should see our state ranking jump significantly when it comes to peak internet speed. Even a small gain in this area could reap significant benefits for all of us, so the sooner we reach this stage, the better.
If you have any thoughts on this issue, or any other involving the state, let me know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.