Kentucky Wired: Bringing High-Speed Internet to Entire State

Local utilities are hesitant about what impact the open-access Internet will have on their businesses, but there seems to be collective support in statewide broadband.

by Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. / February 6, 2017
Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers announced in September 2016 that the state’s broadband initiative, Kentucky Wired, is moving forward with the initial build out in eastern Kentucky followed by the rest of the state. kentuckywired/news

(TNS) -- Kentucky Wired, the state-sponsored effort to build an open-access fiber optic network for the delivery of high-speed Internet across Kentucky, will probably have an impact on Owensboro Municipal Utilities at some point, but officials of the utility are not certain how it will all play out.

"It is much too early for us to know the impact of the Kentucky Wired Program on OMU and our community," said Chris Poynter, superintendent of OMU's telecommunications division. "However, we hope to play a role in such an exciting project for our state."

In January, OMU General Manager Terry Naulty reported to the utility's board that he and Poynter met with the leadership of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority in Frankfort to discuss the KentuckyWired project and its impact on OMU. He said the new "backbone" network will interconnect state offices and educational facilities and will lower the cost of Internet services to those entities.

OMU has entered the home Internet delivery business with pilot projects and is scheduled to expand its "Fiber To The Home" fiber optic network city-wide later this year. On Thursday, Naulty said the utility will seek permission to borrow from $18 million to $19 million on the bond market this fall to finance the home Internet build-out.

"OMU supports a robust and competitive market place that provides access to economical high-speed Internet for everyone," Naulty said. "We believe that any role that KentuckyWired has in the provision of new or enhanced Internet to communities in Kentucky should be on a non-discriminatory, level playing field to all providers."

The state network could be advantageous to OMU, Poynter said. "Kentucky Wired could potentially provide OMU with additional broadband capacity, the opportunity to improve our network redundancy and reliability," he said.

Poynter said he was not sure if Kentucky Wired will pose any kind of a threat to OMU's telecommunications' business.

"However, we perceive it to be an opportunity for our community," Poynter said. "It is encouraging that KCNA is undertaking such an endeavor and are making progress in other areas of the state. ... This is an exciting project for our state and our community. We look forward to being part of it." Poynter said he was not sure when Kentucky Wired will reach Owensboro.

Kentucky Wired was started during former Gov. Steve Beshear's administration and is being continued under Gov. Matt Bevin. It is considered a "middle mile" system that will connect communities. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in communities, such as OMU, or a cable or telephone company, can connect their equipment to the system, providing the "last mile" by extending fiber networks to homes and businesses.

According to the KCNA, Kentucky ranks 47th in the country in broadband speeds and capacity, putting the state at a disadvantage for attracting and growing new job and education opportunities. Construction of the network began in 2015 in eastern Kentucky. The schedule calls for finishing the network in eastern Kentucky and the segments along I-75 by this spring. Full completion is scheduled by the fall of 2018. More than 3,000 miles of fiber-optic lines throughout the state between now and 2018 is planned, at an estimated cost of $324 million.

More information about Kentucky Wired can be found at KentuckyWired.ky.gov. The email address is KentuckyWired@ky.gov, and the telephone number is 502-782-9549.

©2017 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.