PRESTONSBURG – Individuals from throughout the region gathered at the Mountain Arts Center on Tuesday for a presentation about broadband service and options city governments may consider when getting their city connected to the world. The City of Prestonsburg recently received a federal grant it intends to use to conduct a feasibility study to determine if and how the city would benefit from building an infrastructure that would provide broadband service to every household within the city limits.
Over 30 individuals from various organizations such as Mountain Comprehensive Care, Appalachian Wireless, Eastern Telephone, Highlands Regional Hospital Highlands Foundation, Big Sandy Area Development District, along with officials from the City of Hindman as well as residents from the community attended the meeting.
A communications attorney and owner and CEO of CTC Technology and Energy, based in Maryland and considered one of the top authorities on broadband fiber services, discussed different options for municipal city governments to consider for getting broadband fiber services to all homes in their governing area. She has worked extensively with Kentucky Wired and has conducted feasibility studies with many municipalities
Kentucky Wired is a statewide, open-access fiber optic network which will deliver robust, reliable and affordable internet to communities across the state through broadband technology. Communities need reliable internet to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, Kentucky ranks at, or near, the bottom of the national and international rankings of broadband speed and capacity. This puts our state at a major disadvantage for attracting jobs, growing local business, and expanding education.
Broadband, like electricity, water and sewer, is now an essential service. However, it has been too expensive for private carriers to build out a high-speed, high-capacity network across the entire state. With Kentucky Wired, the state will be responsible for building out the middle portion of a fiber network. The success of Kentucky Wired depends on building state and local partnerships that provide not only a middle mile connection but the last mile connections to local communities and residents.
“Internet is where the future of the economy and democracy lies,” said Joanne Hovis, of CTC Technology and Energy. “The main concern at this time is building the infrastructure, which is the digital pipes that run along the right of way on the roadways.”
Google is investing in certain market areas throughout the nation and is taking the risk and making the investment of building the infrastructure to take broadband fiber that will deliver one gigabyte broadband to all homes in a specific area.
Hovis explained that although most of us use wireless technology to connect our computers to the internet, the internet is not wireless at all. The infrastructure needed for broadband internet service is like roads. Digital and eventually fiber wires are the roadways the information and messages we send via the internet travel on. Wireless is basically a compliment to broadband internet. It is only the last small byte that is actually wireless.
The current challenges for cities at this time is to complete the feasibility study. If it is determined broadband fiber service is possible and needed, city governments must determine how they will fund the broadband initiative and who will they partner with to make it happen. They must consider how will they balance the risk of investment, who will benefit from the service, and who is ultimately in control.
Three basic models were discussed in terms of building the last mile of infrastructure. Kentucky Wired will build the infrastructure to get broadband to the city. The city is responsible for the building of the infrastructure and the cost of getting the broadband services to the households in their governing area.
With Model 1, the city facilitates private investment. The city has reduced risk, with no control, and only potential benefit. The private companies that invest in the communities set certain terms they want from the local government in return for their investment in the community.
Model 2 has public risk with private execution. This is the model used by the Kentucky Wired program. Cities will take funds they would spend anyway to build the infrastructure. If the initiative is a loss the public sector, which is the city has funded the project. The private sector that built the infrastructure is paid for their services. The city is left with the biggest potential loss, but also the biggest potential benefit.
Model 3 is shared investment and shared risk. The city government can borrow on long-term bonds and apply for grants as their part of the investment. This is the model recommended by the expert for cities such as Prestonsburg to consider using.
For more information about broadband fiber service, Kentucky Wired offers webinars and information like: Understanding the Broadband Market and How to Address It, Best Practices for Getting Your Community Fiber-Ready, Survey of Federal Funding for Broadband and much more on its website at www.kentuckywired.ky.gov.
Andrea Saddler is a reporter for The Floyd County Times. He can be reached at (606) 886-8506.