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Regional Collaborative Focuses on Rural Internet in Kentucky

A coalition of seven counties and an Internet service provider are banding together to address connectivity gaps in the rural areas of the state. The model could be the basis for other regional partnerships.

by Jacob Mulliken, Messenger-Inquirer / November 12, 2019

(TNS) — ConnectGRADD is gaining momentum and getting recognition from fellow area development districts.

ConnectGRADD is a partnership between QWireless and the Green River Area Development District (GRADD) that provides internet services to the rural areas to GRADD's seven-member counties of Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Union and Webster.

On Nov. 20 Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly and GRADD Executive Director Jiten Shah will be presenting the history, successes and lessons learned through the ConnectGRADD process to the 17 county officials that make up the Bluegrass Area Development District in Lexington.

"I'm proud of it," Mattingly said. "I think it is cool that we are on the forefront of addressing the rural needs of our counties. It is a national issue and for us. Prior to ConnectGRADD, we lost some excellent opportunities in terms of business and individuals moving into Daviess County because they couldn't access internet services. This program is as important to economic development as anything else."

Mattingly and Shah were approached by the Bluegrass Area Development District at this years KACo Conference in Louisville where they extolled upon the virtues of the program and gave a precursory look at lessons learned over the past 13 years, Shah said.

"When you pioneer a thing you get some pushback," he said. "We take a lot of pride in what we do and we do what needs to be done. The judge (Mattingly) and I were approached at the conference by the judge-executive (Joe Pat Covington) of Scott County and he told us that he couldn't get service where he lived and he is near Georgetown. It shows even in urban areas there are issues. We told them how and why we did things and they got more and more interested."

Aside from receiving interest from fellow development districts, ConnectGRADD recently added Hopkins County to its roster of counties after being approached by Hopkins Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield, Mattingly said.

While the program is gaining momentum in Kentucky, Shah has also been sharing the ConnectGRADD story nationally with other state officials, he said.

"I just came back from a national conference and rural broadband was a major topic," he said. "In this age and time, we still have this challenge nationally in providing a broadband service. Some are taking our example."

While the program has been successful overall, there is always work to be done to make services faster and obtainable to those outside of corporate interest as well the much anticipated KentuckyWired program, Mattingly said.

"Kentuckywired won't be providing that last line," he said. "They are only providing the middle line which will still leave our counties and cities to have to come up with the necessary funding to extend that fiber optic line into the more rural areas. The retail side won't go into those communities of 10 residents. There is no money to be made for them. We believe that the have as much right as anyone else to be connected which is why ConnectGRADD is such an important resource. This being said, we are constantly working to bring our systems up to the modern need. When this program was started we had no idea that streaming would even be a thing. Now that the need and the use is so much greater, we are constantly working on upgrading our systems. It is a good story that needs to be told."

©2019 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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