Grants may improve broadband access to rural areas

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Improving broadband access to rural areas of Kentucky was the topic of discussion by a legislative subcommittee in Frankfort on Wednesday.


Hilda Legg, State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Subcommittee on Rural on Rural Issues, the USDA has grant and loan programs available, with $600 million available nationwide.


“These go to telecom providers, many of them being telephone cooperatives,” she said.  “Kentucky is fortunate to have 18 of these.  Today, we are announcing we’re putting $20 million in the Knott County area to finish that co-op’s build out of about 427 miles.  That’s a loan program.” 


Legg said they also have a program called Community Connect, with three $1 million grants used to establish a small network with under 10 mbps internet speed.  “In my time at USDA we’ve had six or seven of those grants awarded in Kentucky.”


She told lawmakers partnerships are the key to expanding broadband service in rural areas, including between local electrical and telephone cooperatives.  “The electric cooperatives have the right of ways, they have the poles, they have trucks, just as the telcos do.  But the telcos have head-end equipment, they have knowledge of regulatory oversight, they have knowledge of the industry itself.  So it makes for perfect partnerships.”


Another funding source for building broadband networks come from the Federal Communications Commission, which has a program called the Connect America Fund.


Holly Spaid with AT&T said the CAF program makes $9 billion available over six years for industry to expand broadband service in rural America, including $327 million in Kentucky to serve 152,000 homes and small businesses.  AT&T, Cincinnati Bell and Windstream are participating providers.


“For many of these communities, it’ll jump from dial-up connections or very low bandwidth services to at least 10 mbps for downloads and one for uploads,” Spaid said.  “This represents a tremendous leap of speed.”


Pricing will be comparable to urban areas, according to Spaid.  “That was one of the agreements we had to make.  You couldn’t charge more to the rural areas despite the higher cost of implementation.”


Instead of running fiber optic cable, Spaid said many of these areas will be served by using fixed wireless internet.  “From the cell tower to the home there is a wireless connection using an antenna,” she explained.  “This service will be offered to over 1.1 million homes and small businesses nationwide.”  


The infrastructure is expected to be completely built by the end of 2020, Spaid said.

  

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