Broadband Bills Help Kentucky’s Rural Communities
No longer does living in a rural area mean limited opportunities. High-speed Internet access is giving rural Kentuckians improved access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities. Three bills pending before the Kentucky General Assembly would do even more to promote technology development in rural parts of the state. As a non-profit, independent organization dedicated to technology-based economic development, ConnectKentucky believes these bills will help Kentucky reach its goal of 100 percent broadband coverage by 2007, creating more jobs and a better quality of life for all Kentuckians.
House Bill 337 deregulates most retail telephone services, except for basic phone lines. The bill allows telephone providers to compete on an even playing field with unregulated phone, cable and Internet providers. The end result is that telecom companies, freed from the burden of regulation, would have more money to invest in rural broadband deployment.
After extensive negotiations, the bill now contains effective consumer and wholesale protections that retain Public Service Commission oversight of basic phone service and the wholesale telecommunications market.
Deregulation is expected to spark investment that will provide broadband access to another 100,000 Kentucky households. Telephone companies have committed to further deployment of broadband throughout the Commonwealth following passage of the bill, and ConnectKentucky expects those investments to occur throughout 2006.
The EastPark business park in Ashland, Ky. exemplifies the kind of economic opportunities that broadband can bring to a rural area. Alltel’s advanced telecommunication services at the park – which include digital switching, fiber optic and copper cable – enabled EastPark to land a Cingular Wireless Call Center in 2001. The call center now has 1,100 employees.
Bill status: The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is expected to vote on the bill Friday, March 24.
House Bill 550 directs the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority to establish a loan and grant program to help providers reach Kentucky businesses and families who have no broadband access. The program will provide an incentive for providers to expand into rural, sparsely populated areas that otherwise might not get service.
Currently, broadband service does not reach 23 percent of Kentucky households. Without broadband, it is nearly impossible for businesses to flourish and grow.
Roy Baker, owner of Access Cable, a small rural cable company in southern Kentucky, said that his company needs financial help to reach the last customers. “With this incentive program, Access Cable would be able to complete build-out plans to service the remainder of our rural unserved areas. This should create economic development and educational and healthcare opportunities for Kentucky citizens who have been traditionally left behind,” he said.
Bill status: Senate expected to vote on the bill this week.
House Bill 568 authorizes electric cooperatives to provide broadband and other services. Co-ops, which were originally established to provide electricity to people in rural areas, now can play a key role in helping rural Kentuckians to get online.
The bill contains provisions designed to create fair competition between co-ops and private businesses offering similar services.
Three Kentucky co-ops already provide broadband service: Fleming-Mason Service Corp., based in Flemingsburg, Ky.; KVNet, based in Nolin, Ky.; and Meade Rural Electric Cooperative.
Tony Overbey, general manager for Fleming-Mason, said most of the 1,000 customers in seven counties who subscribe to the wireless service don’t have other broadband options. He is pleased that the bill passed the legislature. “It means that rural, previously inaccessible areas now have the opportunity to receive broadband from co-ops, who traditionally serve the most rural parts of Kentucky,” he said. “I think it’s a positive step toward making Information Age technology available to everyone in the state.”
Bill status: Passed General Assembly; now at the governor’s desk for signature.
In conclusion, Kentucky has led the nation in broadband growth over the past two years. If the Commonwealth hopes to continue this progress, policies supporting broadband expansion must be part of the formula. ConnectKentucky appreciates the General Assembly's support of this mission. We remain committed to pursuing policies that promote technology-based development, helping Kentucky remain the place of choice to live, work and raise a family.
About ConnectKentucky: ConnectKentucky is leading the way into a new economy for Kentuckians. As an independent technology-based economic development organization, ConnectKentucky works with businesses, government entities and universities to accelerate technology in the Commonwealth. For more information, visit www.connectkentucky.org.