BG Daily News: Kentucky ranks near bottom for broadband service

The Bowling Green Daily News featured a story yesterday on broadband adoption — a topic we've discussed quite a bit lately, culminating in the Rural Broadband Summit and Hearing held in Whitesburg, KY last month.  The article profiles some of the work being done by ConnectKentucky in eastern and western Kentucky.  Their mission "is to accelerate the growth of technology in support of community and economic development, improved healthcare, enhanced education, and more effective government. In order to fulfill the mission, ConnectKentucky provides multiple technology services."  What other ideas do you have for bringing Kentucky up from the bottom on broadband issues? 

By ROBYN L. MINOR, The Daily News

Kentucky ranks near the bottom of states in terms of the percentage of households using broadband connections.

Only Alabama at 56 percent and Arkansas and Mississippi, both at 52 percent, are lower than Kentucky’s 58 percent, according to “Exploring the Digital Divide,” a report released this month from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

And nearly 30 percent of Kentucky households report having no computer at all. The state with the highest broadband adoption rate is Utah, at 80 percent.

Based on a survey of 54,300 households by the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated average of 68 percent of households had broadband service in 2010, up from 64 percent the previous year.

Still, there is a digital divide mostly among rural, low-income minorities who don’t have the service at home. There is no single solution to limiting the divide, the report said.

At least in Warren County, affordable and available service are issues. There are areas in the county that aren’t served by a cable company, so broadband is not available to them. Satellite Internet might be available in some areas, but is thought to be too expensive by some.

In the city limits, residents have options for high-speed access with AT&T or Insight Communications. Businesses have a third option with the fiber optic network that was installed by Bowling Green Municipal Utilities.

The lack of high-speed Internet service is a complaint that has been fielded numerous times by Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon.

Buchanon said he sees Kentucky’s low adoption rate as a contributing factor to its lower-than-hoped-for educational attainment levels. Availability of the service at home gives children a definite edge in the classroom, he said.

Just as Bowling Green has done at some of its parks, Buchanon said the county is working to have wireless access at its parks.

“Warren County government is determined to make high-speed broadband accessible and competitively affordable to every citizen in our county,” Buchanon said. “Since our present cable provider seems uninterested in expanding their accessibility to our less densely populated areas, we are working with private wireless companies to assist them in providing high-speed Internet access to the every resident.”

Buchanon said the county will work to find existing towers, grain silos, water tanks and utility poles where companies can install their services.

“In the modern world of instant information … we consider access to high-speed Internet to be nearly as important as electricity or fresh water,” he said.

Buchanon said ConnectedNation/ConnectKentucky is conducting a study so that the county can see how to invest in infrastructure for the service.

“We are determined for all Warren County residents to have the same Internet advantages that so many in the nation take for granted,” he said.

Rene True, executive director for ConnectKentucky, said his organization hasn’t had the comprehensive statewide plan for broadband since the middle of 2008. A state agency now does that work.

“For the past three years, we’ve been working on a project-by-project basis,” True said.

True’s assessment of the Commerce Department report said it is an accurate portrayal of what is occurring in Kentucky. The lower rates are mostly due to the state’s rural nature and relatively low per capita income.

Connect has received grants to help install infrastructure for a wireless network to the unserved areas of Breathitt, Estill, Lee and Powell counties. A private vendor will actually build and operate the network, True said.

True said two companies, Windstream Communications and South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative based in Glasgow, have plans to build broadband networks that will affect small portions of Warren County.

“They are hopefully part of our mix and we will work to help them,” Buchanon said.

True said changing the adoption rate is going to require showing the relevancy of broadband, providing it affordably and increasing technology literacy.

“It’s going to require real grass-roots, community-level efforts,” he said.

That is what ConnectedNation is doing in other states, where it is engaged in helping with statewide plans, he said.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.