ConnectKentucky: A National Model for Developing Information Technology
Kentucky is being recognized as a model around the nation – even around the world – for its innovative program to accelerate the development of information technology.
Kentucky leaders are getting inquiries from Alabama to California and even from India about the Bluegrass State’s unusual public/private partnership model, its one-of-a-kind broadband network maps, and its grassroots-driven push to blanket the state with high-speed Internet access.
The organization behind Kentucky’s success is ConnectKentucky, a Bowling Green-based non-profit group that brings together government, universities and private partners to promote economic development through information technology. ConnectKentucky’s nonpartisan approach and entrepreneurial style have fostered a culture of cooperation in a state that is thirsty for new ways to connect to the world.
Some concepts that make ConnectKentucky’s program unique:
- Kentucky was the first state to develop a complete inventory of broadband service using GIS mapping technology. Some states have found it hard to convince competing companies to share sensitive market information, but through ConnectKentucky’s leadership, all providers worked together to create these unique maps. The maps clearly show leaders which areas have high-speed Internet service, and where it is still needed.
- Rather than using a top-down approach to expanding information technology, ConnectKentucky invites local leaders in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties to assess their own technology needs and create goals for the future through an extensive self-assessment process. Local leadership is a key component of Kentucky’s plan to expand broadband access across the entire state by 2007.
- When ConnectKentucky identifies any obstacle to technology growth, it can draw on the resources of its partners, whether the need is for a public policy change, the capital brought by private industry, or a research-driven solution from a university.
The need for improved technology in Kentucky is great. In recent rankings, Kentucky was 44th in its proportion of high-tech companies, 45th in household computer use, and 43rd in resident Internet use.
But that is changing fast, as Kentucky transforms from a technology backwater into a national leader in universal access and innovative technology solutions. Some evidence of the progress Kentucky has made:
- According to the Federal Communications Commission, Kentucky leads the nation in its rate of broadband adoption in the past two years.
- In 2003, about 60 percent of Kentucky households had the ability to subscribe to broadband. Now, an estimated 75 percent of households can access broadband, an addition of 240,000 households over two years. Increased investment from telecommunications companies is expected to bring the broadband coverage rate to 90 percent by the end of 2006.
- ConnectKentucky is leading the charge to find cost-effective solutions to bringing the last 10 percent online by 2007, exploring such high-tech avenues as satellite broadband, broadband over power lines and WiMax.
- ConnectKentucky officials are being invited to share their program at national and international events, including the 2005 National Governors Association conference, the 2005 national meeting of the Rural Telecommunications Congress, and a 2006 rural technology conference in India.
- Broadband service is being used to remotely arraign prisoners in state courts, to web-cast high school football games, and to conduct biotech research in a rural county. Employers who located thousands of jobs in Kentucky attributed their decision to the availability of high-speed Internet.
“Our model is efficient, effective and accountable,” said Brian Mefford, president and CEO of ConnectKentucky. “We’re generating jobs, creating business opportunities, and making government more efficient. We bring everyone together – business, government, universities and citizens – to act as a catalyst to technology growth.”
ConnectKentucky has earned the respect of Hilda Legg, the former administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that spends up to $12 billion a year bringing water, sewers and telecommunications to rural areas.
“In my opinion, Kentucky is very advanced in working towards a goal of ubiquitous broadband coverage,” said Legg, a Kentucky native who now is a senior policy advisor for ConnectKentucky. “No one is doing it more effectively than they are.”