Governor announces record investment to expand access to high-speed internet in Kentucky
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Looking to close its digital divide, Kentucky will use a $386 million investment to expand access to high-speed internet to more than 42,600 homes and businesses, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.
It amounts to a record investment of broadband money for Kentucky, a combination of public and private sector funds that will be spread broadly among 46 counties, Beshear said. It’s the next phase of a bipartisan policy goal to connect every Kentucky home and business to reliable, high-speed internet.
“High-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference. “It is an absolute infrastructure necessity.”
Kentucky policymakers are pursuing a long-term effort to connect areas with no internet access or chronically slow service. The persistent lack of access in some parts of the state was laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote work and schooling were hampered by significant gaps in connectivity.
The latest round of funding shows the GOP-led legislature’s goal of expanding broadband access “is within reach,” said Republican House Speaker David Osborne. He pointed to legislative initiatives that created and funded the Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund and Office of Broadband Development.
“While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, a great deal of work remains to be done before Kentuckians across the commonwealth have access to high-speed internet,” Osborne said in a statement after the governor’s announcement.
The broadband awards are the result of a 2021 agreement between lawmakers and the governor to use $300 million of federal pandemic relief funds to extend broadband service.
In mid-2022, the governor announced the first round of awards from the state’s broadband deployment fund, totaling $89.1 million. Combined with matching funds, more than $203 million was committed to ensure access for more than 34,000 families and businesses, the governor’s office said.
On Tuesday, the governor awarded 56 grants totaling more than $196 million in public funds from the broadband deployment fund. Internet service providers receiving grant funding will contribute more than $190 million in matching funds.
Beshear said there are even “bigger days to come” in the state’s broadband expansion work, pointing to a nearly $1.1 billion federal grant that the state secured this year. It will amount to the largest public investment in high-speed internet in the state’s history, the governor’s office said. Beshear said he hopes the state can draw down the first $200 million from that amount by year’s end.
It’s all part of a “transformative” push to achieve universal, reliable internet access statewide, he said.
“We’re talking about access everywhere,” Beshear said. “It doesn’t mean universal access except where it’s difficult, or except where the terrain is tough. Our goal is high-speed internet to everyone. No exceptions.”