Last night in his budget address, Gov. Steve Beshear affirmed his commitment to help revitalize eastern Kentucky when he pledged funding for two key initiatives touted in last month’s Saving Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit in Pikeville.
Today, the governor and Congressman Hal Rogers spoke with reporters about the broadband project. Rogers, the chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, said that the omnibus budget bill signed into law by Congress last week included $10 million for broadband deployment in distressed Appalachian counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.
“I’m hopeful that this will be the beginning of federal investments for broadband in our hard-hit coalfields,” Rogers said.
Rogers explained that the Center for Rural Development in Somerset has spent two years researching high-speed, high-capacity fiber cable for the region. He said the current plan is to hook into the national broadband grid in Cincinnati and bring that service to eastern Kentucky.
Rogers said high-speed internet access is critical to boosting the region’s status in the world market. “It takes away our historic barriers to better jobs, the difficult terrain and isolation, and all of a sudden the world is flat and the famed superior work ethic of our people will be able to compete with the world from home.”
The eastern Kentucky project will be tied into Beshear’s overall plan to lay some 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure access to the entire state. The governor’s office says only about half of the state’s households use broadband service, and nearly one-quarter can’t access broadband at all. The broadband project should provide internet service at speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second to homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. The governor said that he and Rogers are committed to ensuring that the service will be affordably priced.
Specific details on the eastern Kentucky portion of the roll-out are expected in the next few months.