KentuckyWired, an ambitious state-wide broadband project slated for completion in October of 2020, has hit the skids and threatens to leave Kentucky on the side of the internet highway while digging out of enormous debt.
According to FCC data, one in 11 Kentuckians have no wired broadband service in their area. Launched in 2015, the KentuckyWired project promised to create financial opportunities for businesses and residents in the economically distressed state by constructing over 3,000 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable in every county in Kentucky.
ISPs and cellular providers will then be able to connect the last mile, bringing faster internet and more cell towers throughout the state.
ProRepublica (in partnership with the Louisville Courier Journal) recently reported, however, that several missteps by state officials and Macquarie Capital, the Australian investment bank managing the plan, are causing the state serious repercussions that could cost $1.5 billion over the next 30 years. Moreover, without knowing how much Macquarie will charge for access to the network, third-party providers are hesitant to connect their services.
“It’s becoming a pretty dire situation for some folks here who had hoped to build businesses around access to high-speed internet,” said state Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat who represents Letcher County, where the median household income is about $30,000 annually and 31 percent of the population lives in poverty.
ProRepublica reported that project managers are asking lawmakers to approve $100 million for KentuckyWired at this legislative session; an increase of $28 million over the previous budget that puts overall costs 50 times greater than originally proposed. “Someone dropped the ball here and we need to find out what we can do to make the best of a bad situation,” said Robert Goforth, a republican from East Bernstadt.
As state lawmakers grow increasingly worried and threaten to block funding, newly elected Democratic Governor Andy Beshear has reportedly declined to comment on his decisions about the plan until he has time to review all information and briefings related to the project.
Republican State Sen. Jimmy Higdon said, “Unless somebody in the Beshear administration can come up with a plan to save it — a viable plan, a workable plan — and somebody steps up and says this will work, I don’t see us funding something that’s going down a dead-end street,” Higdon said.
“What do they say? Fish or cut bait?” asked state Rep. Lynn Bechler. “Well, it’s no longer fishing. Let’s cut the bait.”
How do Kentuckians feel about waiting for high-speed internet? “Remember the old dial up?” said Defeated Creek resident Adam Smith, imitating the antiquated swish and beep sounds familiar to former AOL users. “That slow internet? That’s fast for us.”