Local telecom providers must be part of KentuckyWired

Greg Hale

Editor's note: Logan Telephone Cooperative provides service to some parts of Simpson County.

Reliable, fast internet has become a hallmark of healthy economies that attract new businesses, jobs and people.

Kentuckians certainly understand the need for broadband access, and we've seen this come to a head with KentuckyWired -- a project of former Governor Steve Beshear's administration. This $350 million initiative is focused on building a statewide, middle-mile fiber network in the hope of motivating others to bring high speed internet to everyone in the state.

While KentuckyWired's goal of improving broadband access in areas of the state that need it most is an important one, the previous administration locked the Commonwealth into high dollar contracts with global companies and didn't disclose all the details with the rest of Kentucky, including legislators and the state taxpayers who will be financing this effort.

Governor Matt Bevin must now be careful to carry out the initiative in a way that won't harm the many local telecom companies already offering robust broadband services throughout the state.

Logan Telephone Cooperative has been providing telecom services to homes, businesses and schools in South Central Kentucky since 1954. Fiber-to-the-home will soon be available to approximately 40 percent of the households in Logan Telephone's service area, and that number will only continue to grow as the company exceeds $20 million in fiber-to-the-home investment.

The Russellville Electric Plant board has also taken on significant investments to provide fiber broadband to homes and businesses in and around the city of Russellville.

Although the architects of KentuckyWired have misled many to believe otherwise, local telecom providers around the state are already building the infrastructure needed to bring high speed internet to those who don't currently have it. KentuckyWired, which will be paid for by state taxpayers, should leverage the work that local companies have already done instead of paying outside, foreign companies millions of dollars to build a duplicate, and ultimately unnecessary, network.

If not managed appropriately, KentuckyWired could force local telecom providers to compete with a government-subsidized network financed by taxpayers. This would create an unfair playing field that could harm member owned cooperatives and municipally owned networks. At its worst, KentuckyWired could hinder existing providers' ability to serve new customers, and could even eliminate much needed telecom jobs in our communities.

KentuckyWired's potentially harmful impacts on local telecom companies are not going unnoticed. State Representative Martha Jane King (D-Lewisburg), creator and chair of the House Special Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology, is doing her best to make sure local telecom providers like Logan Telephone and the Russellville Electric Plant Board are included in the state's rollout of KentuckyWired.

Governor Bevin, who will largely chart KentuckyWired's course from here, has also acknowledged Kentucky's robust telecommunications industry, and has committed to partnering with local service providers to continue improving broadband access throughout the state.

Any effort to expand broadband in Kentucky must capitalize on, not compete with, local telecom companies' success. As our state officials determine what KentuckyWired will look like moving forward, they must consider the many local companies and thousands of employees who are already working hard to make high speed internet a reality for all Kentuckians.

Greg Hale is general manager of Logan Telephone Cooperative, a member owned co-op providing telecom services to six exchange areas in South Central Kentucky.

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