from an antenna to a notebook-sized receiver connected to a computer's Ethernet port. The KLC then began negotiations with local wireless Internet service provider Municipal Wireless to leverage the service for any rural Kentucky city that wanted it.
Launching a Pilot
Naturally, Campbellsville became the testing ground Municipal Wireless' service. KLC negotiated a cost of $89 a month for each business that wanted to sign up, and Municipal Wireless began setting up test sites last spring.
A six-week pilot program exceeded expectations and the service is now being expanded. Sheilley said more businesses request the service every week.
"It allows us to see the dream and the promise of the Internet fulfilled in a place like Campbellsville," he said. "The whole promise of the Internet is it allows you to compete wherever you are if you have the access. Companies here can now compete in the global marketplace. They don't have to be in a major metropolitan area."
Since the rollout, Campbellsville has seen its economic outlook improve steadily, beginning with Amazon.com's decision to establish a distribution center in Taylor County's old Fruit of the Loom plant. The move greatly reduced unemployment figures. "We've seen unemployment go down as far as 5.6 percent," said Taylor County Judge Executive Eddie Rogers.
Although attracting Amazon.com to the area proved broadband's effectiveness as an economic development tool, Sheilley said he and Team Taylor County view the technology as more than just that. "We don't see it so much as an important business recruitment tool, even though it is," he said. "We see it as being able to help our existing businesses be successful and to help them to do business better so they can survive and grow."
Just the Beginning
Mefford is happy with the progress Campbellsville and Taylor County have made, but his work has just begun. He currently is working on a task force within the governor's office to ensure every city in Kentucky has high-speed Internet access within the next 12 to 18 months. "We want to ensure not one city is left behind," he said.
Mefford said local leadership was key to bringing broadband to rural Kentucky. "It's quite difficult because when you go to a city with 1,500 people there just aren't that many businesses there. It takes the Chamber of Commerce and local government leaders to help mine out opportunities and leverage the buying power."
Once cities are set up with broadband, Mefford expects them to take advantage e-government applications currently under development at the state level.
"We've got a whole smorgasbord of applications we're going to offer cities," he said. "The first one will be online procurement - cities will be able to perform online reverse auctions to purchase anything from paperclips to multimillion-dollar construction projects. This is critical for government because every agency is now experiencing shortfalls. They have to do more with less, and this application could allow cities to save between 20 and 30 percent."
Ultimately, officials hope bringing broadband Internet to Kentucky's rural communities will help cities avoid the sort of wrenching economic challenges that faced Campbellsville.
"It was a very tough time," said Sheilley. "Fortunately, it's a very resilient community and we've bounced back, replaced all the jobs we lost and we're actually on the plus side of things now."