For nearly 80 years, the Kentucky Telecom Association (KTA) and its 16 regular member companies have played a critical role in bringing telephone, and more recently, broadband services to households, schools and businesses across the Commonwealth. This has helped make Kentucky a more attractive place to live, work, teach and start a business.
Without question, continued fiber deployment is needed in today’s global economy. So it’s no surprise that KentuckyWired—an initiative related to increased broadband access throughout Kentucky—was heavily discussed at the recent SOAR Summit in Pikeville.
Since it was initially sold to the public by the Beshear administration, KentuckyWired has been viewed by many as the next big step in bringing high-speed internet to all Kentuckians. However, this taxpayer-funded initiative may actually end up costing more to accomplish less than initially planned.
While much of the previous administration’s negotiations around the KentuckyWired contract happened behind closed doors, the public, who will be financing this effort, deserves to know the facts.
First, if not managed appropriately, KentuckyWired could harm local telecom businesses and jeopardize much needed jobs and investments in our communities.
Secondly, and contrary to popular belief, KentuckyWired will not bring high-speed internet into the homes of Kentuckians, nor does it guarantee greater adoption rates for broadband services.
What KentuckyWired will do is use precious taxpayer dollars to pay foreign companies to build broadband infrastructure and place fiber in areas where local telecom companies have already invested millions of dollars to do just that. Why should taxpayers have to pay to develop a duplicative fiber network in locations that already have it?
Fortunately, the Bevin administration has an opportunity to lessen KentuckyWired’s potentially negative impact on businesses, jobs and taxpayers by ensuring local telecom companies are actively involved in the project.
Kentucky’s rural independent telecom providers already offer world class broadband services in 45 Kentucky counties, covering more than one-third of the state. These companies have deployed more than 12,000 miles of fiber throughout their communities—more than four times what is being proposed through KentuckyWired.
State leaders must understand that Kentucky’s rural telecom providers have offered broadband services in their communities for years and continue to invest millions of dollars in fiber deployment throughout Kentucky.
At the SOAR Summit, Governor Bevin reiterated his pledge to partner with local carriers to increase taxpayers’ “bang for their buck.” It will be important for the Commonwealth’s leaders to remember this mantra.
The state will certainly get more “bang for its buck” by utilizing Kentucky’s rural, independent telecom businesses and their existing infrastructure, rather than setting up a duplicate network to compete against local providers.
The state need not look far to see that Kentucky telecom companies have made, and continue to make, great strides in increasing broadband access in all parts of the state. KentuckyWired should build on the decades of experience these local companies have already put in to bringing high-speed internet access to all areas of the Commonwealth.
Tyler Campbell is the executive director of the Kentucky Telecom Association (KTA), which represents Kentucky’s rural independent telecom companies and regional wireless providers.