LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – The General Assembly sent more than 100 bills to the governor’s desk in the days leading up to a veto recess. Among them, a bill expanding rural broadband access.
House bill 315 reshuffles more federal money the state received over the pandemic to the broadband deployment fund to build out more of that infrastructure. According to broadbandnow.com, Kentucky ranks 40th in the country in rural broadband access.
“Because Lexington is such a big metropolitan area, you all have a lot of other options and competition in the Internet space. We don’t have as many providers and so we have to work with those providers to provide good quality internet at reasonable prices,” Woodford County Judge-Executive James Kay told FOX 56.
Kay is a member of the state’s Agritech Advisory Council. He said access to internet isn’t the only problem, but access to quality internet is too. The bill moves $182,769,000 from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) and $67,231,000 from the ARPA State Fiscal Recovery Fund are to be appropriated to the Broadband Deployment Fund after a rule change by the Biden administration over how it’s used.
“We need to make sure that we secure enough funding to build the foundational infrastructure. the infrastructure that will allow us to expand out internet faster, more efficiently, and ultimately more cost-effective,” Kay said.
Kay explained while the amount does make a large pool of resources, it only scratches the surface of the Commonwealth’s broadband needs. He said in addition to building good infrastructure, part of the problem is also making sure lower-income people aren’t priced out of good service.
“Internet needs to be more like electricity and water and less like a luxury because we’ve seen that it is a utility and something folks need in their day to day life, no matter whether they live in Lexington, Versailles, or on a farm in rural Woodford county,” Kay said.
Kay said he believes the state should ultimately partner with service providers to keep them accountable over a public-private partnership.
“We saw the deficiencies in the current system, we saw the breakdown between people who had Internet but they couldn’t keep a connection to go to school, for example,” Kay said.
Another $100 million could be coming to the Broadband Deployment Fund through the state budget delivered to Gov. Andy Beshear. The bill also adds $20 million in new funding to create the Rural Infrastructure Improvement Fund to replace utility poles to build out that infrastructure.