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Content tagged with "kentucky"
Windstream Communications and local nonprofit electrical cooperative Colquitt Electric Membership Corp are partnering on a $32.5 million fiber deployment that will bring fiber optic broadband to 17,000 homes and businesses in Colquitt County, Georgia.
Once completed sometime next year, the partnership should help deliver last-mile fiber access to roughly 70% of Colquitt County residents, many of which either have no current broadband access, or have long been stuck on sluggish, expensive, and dated digital subscriber line (DSL).
Windstream will maintain ownership of the finished network and provide residential service under its Kinetic brand, while Colquitt EMC will utilize the network to help maintain and support the company’s existing electrical grid.
Kinetic will use $21.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants to fund the network build, while providing $11.1 million of its own funds to cover any cost overruns. The company says it has already laid 180 miles of cable of an expected 440 miles total county wide.
“Colquitt EMC has been an instrumental part in the delivery of fiber in its service area,” Kinetic Georgia operations President Michael Foor said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful for its willingness to support these efforts.”
As ILSR has long noted, PPPs can be a decidedly mixed bag. They can be good for municipalities unable or unwilling to handle the logistics or cost of a major deployment alone. At the same time, locals don’t have much or any control over the trajectory of the finished network, including pricing that can quickly creep out of the range of affordability.
The fading sound of holiday bells and soft stillness that comes with plunging temps can only mean one thing; it's January again, which means it's time to break out the crystal ball and have a conversation about the year to come. Joining Christopher in the recording booth are a slew of CBN staffers new and veteran to join in the collective task of putting words to feelings both foreboding and optimistic about the year to come.
Will we see the first BEAD-connected home this year? Will the Affordabel Connectivity Program get re-funded? How will the maps look in 11 more months, with slews of challenge data? How many new municipal ftth networks will we see founded in 2024? State preemption laws rolled back, or re-introduced? Tune in for answers to all these and more.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
A looming new bill by Republican Kentucky State Senator Gex Williams could undermine decades of broadband progress made in the state’s capital city by a popular locally-owned utility, Frankfort Plant Board (FPB).
Home to 28,000 Kentuckians, local residents and utility officials in Frankfort are incensed at the bill, which they believe will unnecessarily result in higher rates, fewer jobs, and less broadband competition overall.
Williams is circulating a bill in the Kentucky state legislature that, if passed, would force FPB to sell its broadband division to a private-sector company and subject it to more stringent oversight requirements. In guest editorials circulated in the local press, Williams insists his goal is to “rein in” the FPB, which he deems part of a “runaway” government that lacks accountability.
But there’s no evidence for Williams’ allegations of limited accountability, and locals and activists alike believe that the legislator is simply running interference for regional broadband monopolies upset by the added competition created by the popular, publicly-owned utility.
Another Community-Owned Solution Addressing Market Failure
Like many local U.S. communities, Frankfort sees a notable dearth of meaningful broadband competition, resulting in patchy broadband coverage, slow speeds, high prices, and abysmal customer service. Enter the Frankfort Plant Board, which has been deploying affordable fiber access across the community under the NEXTBAND brand.
Pikeville, Kentucky (pop. 7,300) sits about 150 miles southeast of Lexington, in the extreme eastern part of the state. Today, after almost a decade of fighting with Internet Service Provider (ISP) Optimum about service so consistently poor that the city finally sued the provider, it’s working on an alternative: a partnership that will see the local government build new citywide fiber infrastructure and lease it to an operating partner.
A Tale As Old As Time
Publicly available data shows that, historically, about two-thirds of the city of Pikeville can take Internet service from Inter Mountain Cable - a regional provider with about 25,000 subscribers across Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. Likewise, Optimum (formerly Suddenlink) offers cable service to about the same number of households. AT&T’s DSL service covers a little more than a quarter of town. Those living in the northern half of the city generally have better service options than those living in the southern half.
The path the city of Pikeville has taken began almost 15 years ago. In 2009, the local government signed a new, 10-year franchise agreement with Suddenlink. But when Altice (originally a French telecommunications company) bought Suddenlink back in 2015 to build its portfolio here in the United States, things quickly took a turn for the worse.
Kentucky is one of many states undergoing a baptism by fire as they jocky to take advantage of billions in historic federal broadband grants. The Kentucky Office of Broadband Development didn’t exist a year ago; now it’s tasked with identifying state broadband gaps and managing one of the most complex broadband subsidy efforts ever attempted.
All while shaking off a history of costly state boondoggles.
Kentucky officials last year announced they’d be spending more than $203 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to shore up broadband access. Now they’re preparing to spend hundreds of millions more courtesy of $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Kentucky Office of Broadband Officials have spent the last few months on a listening tour getting an earful from frustrated state residents angry about high broadband prices, spotty coverage, and sluggish speeds. Kentucky currently ranks 30th nationwide in such metrics thanks in part to monopolization by local cable and phone giants.
Like so many states, the lack of affordable, reliable broadband access was particularly notable during the Covid home education and telecommuting boom, driving a renewed interest in creative broadband deployment alternatives.
Avoiding The Sins Of The Past
Past Kentucky efforts to bridge the digital divide haven’t gone particularly well.
Once known as the center of bowling ball manufacturing, producing 60 percent of the world’s bowling balls, today Hopkinsville, KY (pop. 31,580) is on the verge of becoming a kingpin in a whole different lane: producing gig-speed broadband.
A municipal utility currently offering fiber Internet access to the residents of Hopkinsville, Hopkinsville Electric System (HES) is joining forces with Pennyrile Electric Cooperative to extend fiber-to-the-home Internet service to as many homes as possible in Pennyrile Electric’s service territory in southwestern Kentucky, starting with Christian, Trigg, and Todd Counties.
The three counties will contribute approximately $17 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds, while HES and Pennyrile will use a combination of state and federal grants and loans to contribute a 100 percent match for the $34 million project. When network construction is complete, it is expected to pass 28,000 households in the tri-county region.
Scoring Big in Public Partnership
While HES EnergyNet connected its first household in 2016, the utility has been utilizing the power of fiber-optic broadband for decades.
HES started as a municipal electric utility nearly 80 years ago, but in 1998, the board of directors decided to turn to fiber to connect its substations. By 1999, HES was offering fiber-fed broadband services to local businesses, industries, and city and county agencies through its ISP, EnergyNet.
In November 2018, HES EnergyNet announced it had plans to bring gigabit speeds to every address in Hopkinsville. Since then, the network has grown to serve more than 12,000 residents and businesses.
As HES was putting its fiber network to use, Pennyrile Electric reached out to its future partner and presented the idea to continue building fiber out into the surrounding rural areas. Pennyrile Electric has members across nine counties and had been getting numerous calls from co-op members asking whether or not the cooperative would get into the broadband business.
Calloway County (pop. 39,000) in western Kentucky is known for the picturesque shorelines circling Kentucky Lake, the wildlife at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, and as the home of Murray State University where Ja Morant dazzled basketball fans before becoming an NBA phenom.
Now there's a different team coming to town that will delight local residents: a new partnership between Calloway County and West Kentucky and Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications Cooperative will soon make this rural corner of the state known as a home for high-speed Internet connectivity, as the county and WK&T recently announced they were joining forces to expand the cooperative’s existing fiber network to reach every unserved and underserved location in the county.
Calloway County and WK&T are each committing a $6.2 million matching contribution for the first phase of the expansion project, which will see the co-op’s fiber-to-the-home network in the region extended 236 miles to serve an additional 4,274 homes and businesses.
With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.
The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.
Laboratories of Broadband-ification
As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.
Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.
As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.
The State Scene
We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.
Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months.
Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.
The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region.
Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.
The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.