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Kentucky's State-Owned Broadband Network Sees First Live Connection

KentuckyWired, a state-owned broadband network, started providing service to its first state customer last week. The network is expected to provide high-speed Internet to all state offices and institutions by late 2020.

KentuckyWired, a 3,000-mile state-owned fiber network project, is now providing high-speed Internet to its first site, which is the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) in Owenton, Ky.

Eventually, all state offices and institutions and other properties such as state parks will be connected to KentuckyWired. Deck Decker, interim director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority, said these sites, once they connect, will have speeds that are five times faster than what they currently have. 

KentuckyWired’s construction is nearing completion. The network is made up of six “rings” (labeled 1A, 1B, 2, 3, 4, and 5), all of which should be functional by October 2020, Decker said. 

“We’re very happy with the results of this first real use of the network,” Decker said, referring to the CHFS connection, which was established last week. “Sites all over the commonwealth will be coming online now, beginning with those in the northern section known as Ring 1A.”

The network’s statewide structure is unique. Another notable aspect of KentuckyWired is its status as an “open access” network, which means “cities, partnerships, private companies or other groups” can connect to it. Private companies, for example, could lease the network’s fiber and create last-mile connections to rural areas. The network itself is a middle-mile structure.

Notwithstanding its recent progress, the KentuckyWired project has a checkered history. In 2014 under former Gov. Steve Beshear, Kentucky partnered with Australian investment bank Macquarie Capital to fund the project. At that time, Beshear believed the project would cost between $250 millino and $350 million, according to Louisville Business First

But after delays and a botched attempt at acquiring federal funds, Kentucky owes more than $1 billion to Macquarie. State taxpayers must cover about half of that total, based on a report from ProPublica. 

According to WFPL, parts of the network were planned to be live in 2016, but the plan required Kentucky to get permission from companies in order to utilize utility poles for the fiber. WFPL reported that “[A]uditors found state officials assumed this would be easy to do and did not allow enough time to reach these agreements.” As a result, the project was delayed, increasing the overall cost of KentuckyWired. 

Earlier this year, the Louisville Courier Journal indicated that squirrels chewed and damaged some of the network’s fiber-optic cable, creating another delay. Additionally, state lawmakers refused to allow the borrowing of another $110 million that would be used to “accelerate the project.”

“That makes me nervous long-term,” said state Sen. Chris McDaniel after he heard about the squirrel situation, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Last month, Decker said KentuckyWired probably wouldn’t produce any revenue until 2025.  

Editor's note: The estimated project costs were changed for accuracy. 

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.