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Majority of Kentucky Residents Support Rural Broadband Push

A recent survey found that 69 percent of respondents believed access to broadband was critical, and 60 percent of respondents in rural areas felt access to broadband was a problem in their communities.

(TNS) — A recent survey of state residents said they support expanding broadband Internet in rural areas and would support lawmakers passing bills that increase broadband access.

The survey was conducted on behalf of Connect the Future, a coalition of groups that includes the Urban Leagues of Lexington and Louisville, Charter Communications and the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians, among others.

The group advocates for expanding broadband into rural areas by allowing broadband providers to more-readily connect equipment to existing utility poles. There are regulations governing such connections — broadband providers can currently connect with poles that are owned by utility companies, at a cost.

Connect the Future says broadband providers are sometimes asked to pay the cost of replacing old utility poles, even if the pole was previously in need of replacement, and the process of making the pole ready for a new connection, or getting a permit, can be time-consuming.

Last week, the state Public Service Commission discussed requests to change regulations regarding attachments to utility poles. The commission has not yet made a ruling but has received a high number of comments from utilities and organizations like the Kentucky Hospital Association.

The request has a number of supporters in the state legislature. In a letter to the PSC, Rep. Derrick Graham, a Frankfort Democrat, asked the PSC to "improve access to utility poles and ensure a fair distribution of costs, to create a more cost-effective, streamlined process of attaching broadband infrastructure to existing poles."

The survey found 69% of respondents believed access to broadband was critical, and 60% of respondents in rural areas felt access to broadband was a problem in their communities.

Having access to high-speed Internet at home was important to 95% of respondents. More than 80% said they want lawmakers to do more to improve broadband access.

"What I found most striking about this poll is there is no divide" among political parties in their support for access to broadband, said Robert Blizzard, a pollster with Public Opinion Strategies, a Virginia firm that conducted the poll.

"When you look at support in the 70s, 80s and 90s, you can't get that high unless you have 70% to 80% support across party lines," Blizzard said. "It's not even a partisan issue."

The survey found people largely support proposals that could help expand broadband coverage in rural areas, including "establishing standards for equitable and fair pole replacement costs," allowing construction techniques that reduce the time it takes to install broadband equipment, and setting timelines for when equipment can be installed.

Support for those measures ranged between 78% and 88%.

The poll results will be shared with lawmakers. About 40% of people surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a legislator who passed bills related to expanding broadband access.

Of the results, Blizzard said, "You don't see the levels of support like this on issues, especially given the political climate we are in today. It's not just good for the state, and people who live in the state, but legislators who would take this issue on."

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