Kentucky is moving forward with an effort to bring broadband internet closer to communities throughout the state. Governor Steve Beshear signed an executive order creating the Kentucky Communications Network Authority, which will manage the open-access network Kentucky Wired. Over the next 3 years, the state plans to build 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure at a cost of $324 million, $30 million of which will come from the state, $23.5 million from federal funds, and the remaining $270.9 million from private investment.
Project spokesperson Pamela Trautner said greater broadband capacity is necessary to keep Kentucky economically competitive and enhance community development. She explained one project goal is to enhance the unified network for state entities.
“Right now there is a unified network. It’s called KIH3, Kentucky Information Highway 3. And we actually get that service through a private provider. So, the universities and state government entities are on a unified network, it’s just that it’s a private network,” Trautner said.” So with Kentucky Wired the state will actually own the network but they’re building it such that it will have excess capacity so that can be made available to these local internet service providers.”
Murray State Center for Telecommunications Systems Management director Michael Ramage said mobile broadband access in the purchase area is pretty good, but when it comes to home broadband access the rural river counties of Fulton, Hickman, and Carlisle struggle. He said they are the counties with the greatest need for broadband fiber in the western half of the state.
Ramage said the challenge to expanding broadband in those and other rural areas is there are too few customers to cover the cost of expansion. KentuckyWired aims to make it less costly for local service providers to expand broadband networks to their rural customers.
“The overarching goal is to provide this middle-mile network that then becomes what we call the ‘exit ramps’ into the communities. So you have this high speed backbone, or middle mile fiber, and then local internet service providers can hook on to that and extend their networks further into the local communities. That’s called last-mile service or fiber to the premise,” Trautner explained. “So, hopefully, that will encourage them to develop their networks further into the communities.”
But Ballard Telephone Cooperative CEO Randy Grogan said KentuckyWired could take a bite out of their customer base.
“The way I’m understanding it right now, they’re actually wanting to build to government facilities and school systems. You know, those are our customers right now, and so there’s a possibility of us losing those customers to the state,” Grogan said.
Trautner said it is possible BTC could lose some business but the opportunity to access cheaper wholesale internet from the state network can help them grow their business long term.
Construction of Kentucky Wired will begin in eastern Kentucky, where there are more challenges to expanding broadband. Michael Ramage says the mountains in the east make mobile broadband almost impossible, whereas mobile broadband coverage in the west is fairly well established. Trautner said though eastern Kentucky is first priority, work in other parts of the state may also be going on concurrently.