Better Internet for a Better Kentucky

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Digital Beat

Better Internet for a Better Kentucky

"Access to reliable high-speed internet is critical to the state’s future economic growth and will vastly improve the daily lives of all Kentuckians."

Governor Andy Beshear (D-KY)

In his first State of the Commonwealth address in January 2020, Governor Andy Beshear (D-KY) asked lawmakers to address some stark realities. At the time, Kentucky was the third poorest state by per capita income and over 1 in 5 children in the state lived in poverty. The state ranked in the top eight of states in terms of hunger. Kentucky had some of the highest child abuse and neglect rates in the country. The state ranked 45th in the country for adults with high school diplomas. The state incarcerated its own people at one of the highest rates in the U.S. and in the world.

"To attract the jobs of the future, we must invest in three areas: infrastructure, workforce training, and most importantly, education," declared Gov. Beshear. That included "coming together to chart our future to ensure every area of the state has high-speed internet." 

Better Kentucky Plan

Better Internet is part of Gov. Beshear's comprehensive Better Kentucky Plan to help the commonwealth lead in the post-CO​​VID economy. Through the passage of bills in the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, federal funds were allocated to boost the state's economy by building new schools, delivering clean drinking water, and expanding access to broadband. 

​​U​​nder House Bill 320 and House Bill 382, enacted in 2021, Kentucky's Broadband Deployment Fund includes $300 million in state funds earmarked to address the connectivity needs of unserved and underserved communities across the Commonwealth. The fund assists private sector entities and governmental agencies in the cost of constructing the “last mile” of high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved households and businesses across Kentucky. Combined with at least 50% required matching federal investments, a minimum of $600 million will support the expansion of high-speed internet in Kentucky, creating more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. The fund prioritizes applications of projects that include areas without current access to high-speed internet or those providing 10 Mbps or less download speeds.

In June 2022, Gov. Beshear announced the first round of 47 broadband grants totaling more than $89.6 million that will help bring high-speed internet access to unserved locations across the commonwealth. These grants were awarded to 12 internet service providers and local governments across 36 Kentucky counties. Each of the grant recipients pledged at least 50% in matching funds to support these projects, bringing the total investment for the first round of broadband expansion awards to over $203 million. The largest awardees were:

  • Charter Communications received 18 grant awards totaling $49,980,694. The overall project investment is $118,808,035 including the required matching funds. This investment will expand access to high-speed internet to 18,553 currently unserved households and businesses located in Anderson, Bourbon, Boyle, Carroll, Henry, Jefferson, Jessamine, Lincoln, Madison, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer, and Trimble counties.
  • Pennyrile Rural Electric Cooperative received seven grants totaling $13,827,320. The overall project cost is $27,906,340 including the required matching funds. This investment will expand access to high-speed internet to 5,598 currently unserved households and businesses located in Caldwell, Christian, Lyon, Todd, and Trigg counties.
  • Gibson Connect received a grant for $4,650,880. The overall project cost is $11,073,552 including the required matching funds. This investment will expand access to high-speed internet to 1,763 currently unserved households and businesses located in Fulton, Graves and Hickman counties.

The Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund got a boost in January 2023 when the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved the commonwealth's plan to use 100% of its Capital Projects Fund allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act for broadband infrastructure. Kentucky estimates that the $182.8 million in federal funding will connect 45,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access—approximately 16% of locations in the state still lacking broadband access. 

With support from the Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund, which is a competitive grant program, areas that currently lack access to internet at speeds of 25/3 Mbps—and especially rural areas of the commonwealth that are hardest to serve—can win awards to build networks designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. Each of the internet service providers funded by the program will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program which subsidizes the monthly cost of broadband service for low-income families. 

"A lot of these areas are unserved right now,” said Gov. Beshear. "They need this technology to take advantage of all the great opportunities that we have coming our way. Expanding access to reliable, fast internet is going to improve the lives of Kentucky families, and it’s going to support our future economic growth."

The Office of Broadband Development

Kentucky's 2022-2024 budget includes funding to establish the Office for Broadband Development, as authorized by ​​House Bill 315​.  Established in 2022, the office serves as the central broadband planning and coordination entity to encourage, foster, develop, and improve broadband within the Commonwealth. The office aims to improve broadband accessibility for unserved and underserved communities and populations, drive job creation, promote innovation, and expand markets for Kentucky businesses and industries, and serve the needs of Kentucky's agricultural, educational, health care, and public safety systems, governmental operations, and citizens.​​​​​​​

The office recently announced a six-week, 14-stop listening tour beginning Tuesday, February 14, 2023. In collaboration with Kentucky's Education and Labor Cabinet, the broadband office will gather stakeholder input and meet planning requirements for the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program as Kentucky develops a state high-speed internet plan. 

“Billions of dollars to help Kentucky build out essential high-speed internet infrastructure are on the line. Having community-level input will help ensure Kentucky’s plan expands and improves internet access where it is most critically needed,” said Office of Broadband Development Executive Director Meghan Sandfoss. “Input from this listening tour, as well the formation of an advisory group comprised of key stakeholders from across the state, will help Kentucky create an effective and informed state plan that targets areas of both the greatest need and the greatest impact.”

In December 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration awarded Kentucky its first “Internet for All” grants for deploying high-speed Internet networks and developing digital skills training programs. 

Kentucky received $5 million to:

  • Identify unserved and underserved locations;
  • Increase the capacity of Kentucky's broadband office;
  • Map broadband-related assets to identify existing activities that support the project’s goal and identification of resources and the gaps in access, affordability, and adoption that the grant funds are intended to address;
  • Collaborate with Kentucky's State Digital Equity Plan;
  • Engage local unserved, underserved, and underrepresented communities to better understand barriers to adoption.

Kentucky also received $874,236.13 to:

  • Conduct community and stakeholder engagement on digital equity;
  • Award subgrants for engaging with regions of the state and taking community-based actions;
  • Develop of a statewide digital equity plan that focuses on the communities and populations disproportionally harmed by digital inequity while stimulating workforce development.

2022 Rural Infrastructure Improvement Fund​​​

The Office of Broadband Development will award up to $20 ​million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund through Kentucky’s Rural Infrastructure Improvement Fund for eligible pole replacement costs related to broadband deployment projects for unserved locations. The purpose of the Rural Infrastructure Improvement Fund is to expedite and facilitate the deployment of broadband service to ​individuals, businesses, agricultural operations, and community access points in unserved locations by reimbursing a portion of eligible utility pole replacement costs incurred by eligible applicants. The Office of Broadband Development has the authority to award grants to assist with pole replacements costs.​ 

KentuckyWired: the Commonwealth's Middle-Mile, Open-Access Network

In 2017, Gov. Steve Beshear's administration launched work on KentuckyWired, a network of more than 3,000 miles of fiber-optic lines throughout the commonwealth. After years of delays (and a great deal of controversy), the middle-mile, open-access network was completed in 2021, connecting all 120 Kentucky counties as well as government offices, universities, community colleges, state police posts, state parks, and other government institutions. KentuckyWired also leases capacity to private companies including last-mile broadband providers and cellphone operators. 

KentuckyWired is managed by the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA), a part of Kentucky's General Government Cabinet and administratively attached to the Office of the Governor. The KCNA board is made up of stakeholders in the network including the Secretary of the Governor's Executive Cabinet who serves as Chair of the Board, the State Budget Director, the Secretary of the Transportation Cabinet, the Secretary of the Economic Development Cabinet, the Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, the Commissioner of the Department for Local Government and a representative from the Center for Rural Development. A public-private partnership with Macquarie Capital was established to design, build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. 

See more state broadband profiles

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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