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The beginning stages of a plan to bring high-speed, reliable internet access to homes and businesses is underway in Kentucky. 

The General Assembly this year approved $300 million for a "last mile" broadband expansion project that focuses on under-served areas of the state

State Budget Director John Hicks gave an update this week to the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue. He said a Request for Information, or RFI, will be issued in a couple of weeks.

“It’s purpose is to ask the providers and municipalities, and other government agencies their ideas, comments and their suggestions," Hicks said. "We don’t know what we don’t know, and so we want to avail ourselves of their expertise before we finalize our process.”

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Kentucky school districts have had their internet access restored after a Christmas Day bombing in Nashville knocked out networks across the region. 

The explosion damaged an AT&T building causing widespread service outages across the region including in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Indiana. 

The network was down this weekend for nearly 60 Kentucky school districts, along with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) offices in Frankfort, according to KDE spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman. 

“This appears to be concentrated basically in central Kentucky and far western Kentucky,” she said. “Though it did reach Anchorage Independent up in Louisville.”

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Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) and former education commissioner Wayne Lewis are calling on the federal government to help expand internet access to all Kentucky students.

“This is not something that states, particularly states like Kentucky, are going to be able to take on all on their own,” Lewis said Monday during a press conference hosted the Walton Family Foundation.

Lewis is serving as the dean of Belmont University school of education in Nashville, after being forced out of his position as education commissioner in December.

Wise, who chairs the state senate’s education committee, said many families struggled in the spring to get online when schools moved to nontraditional instruction, or NTI.

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The KentuckyWired broadband project continues to crawl towards completion, but officials estimate it won’t start generating revenue for the state until 2025.

Two segments of the statewide broadband project — in northern and southeastern Kentucky — have been completed and will soon be used to provide internet to state-owned buildings.

Construction on the network is set to be completed by late next year, though portions of it were originally scheduled to go live in 2016.


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The internet has been restored at all 172 of Kentucky’s school districts and the state Department of Education headquarters in Frankfort after a statewide outage.

At 11:50 a.m., the Kentucky Department of Education released a statement saying the outage has been resolve and internet service has been restored.

Service was interrupted across the state at about 6:00 a.m. Wednesday.

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The KentuckyWired broadband internet network has passed a major milestone, with data now flowing through a segment that connects the state’s most populous areas.

State officials announced Monday that government sites will soon begin using the network, which can also be leased to private companies to help offset the $1.5 billion taxpayers will ultimately have pay for it over the next 30 years.

 


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In a conference hall in Pikeville, Kentucky, this September, Gov. Matt Bevin led an eager audience in a countdown. When the audience reached “One!,” a map on the screen behind the governor lit up with the promise of a high-tech future.

After years of delay and scandal, major portions of the commonwealth’s “middle mile” of high-speed internet were complete.

“There are so many negative haters, so many people who pooh-pooh things and say this can’t happen, it’s not possible,” Bevin told the crowd. “But I’ll tell you what. We’ve never quit.”


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Vivian Livingood is the mayor of Gilbert, a southern West Virginia town of under 500 people that has struggled for years without reliable internet. Livingood said that hampers Gilbert’s tourism, businesses and schools.

“We get kicked off the internet here every two minutes, and that’s if we can afford the internet,” Livingood said. “And it’s just pitiful service. It’s not fast.”


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The troubled Kentucky Wired broadband initiative received another public lashing on Thursday as state legislators weighed in on a scathing audit of the delayed and costly project.

Last month, State Auditor Mike Harmon released an examination that accused officials in former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration of botching the procurement of Kentucky Wired, placing too much financial risk on taxpayers and creating an unrealistic timeline for completion.

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U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie wants to bring broadband access to more Kentuckians. He said it helps economic development as well as quality of life.

About 22 percent of Kentuckians don’t have access to broadband. One of the biggest challenges with providing reliable internet access to more people is building the infrastructure. Guthrie said better access to faster internet means connecting more people to flexible work and allowing companies to remain competitive.

 

“So even if you’re doing old school manufacturing it uses modern technology and you have to have it,” he told WKU Public Radio. “So if you have counties that just don’t have it overall they just can’t compete in terms of trying to attract businesses to put people to work and grow the county.”

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Republican leaders of the state House of Representatives have asked a top official from former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration to answer questions about Kentucky Wired, a statewide broadband project that has racked up more than $180 million in costs associated with delays.

The Kentucky Wired project is supposed to provide high speed internet to all of Kentucky’s 120 counties with a 3,200 mile-long network of fiber optic cable.

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City officials say there’s a large number of people without broadband internet access, but a potential Microsoft partnership could address it.

The contrast between people with internet access is called the digital divide, and the Brookings Institute found more than 200,000 Louisville residents live with low broadband subscription rates.

Raamel Mitchell, Microsoft’s director for citizenship, said the company will help by partnering with the city and with organizations like the Ali Center to provide programs and initiatives about digital connectivity.

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Businesses that have invested in Kentucky’s delayed statewide broadband network are concerned that the budget passed by legislators earlier this week doesn’t provide enough certainty that the state will hold up its end of the public-private partnership.

Under the budget, which is currently being considered by Gov. Matt Bevin, KentuckyWired would be funded as a “necessary government expense,” meaning Bevin would have the choice to fund the project using money from the state’s rainy day fund or in the event of a budget surplus.

State officials say they have installed more than 600 miles of fiber optic cables as part of a planned 3,200 mile broadband network across Kentucky.

But the network still faces significant delays as the project piles up millions of dollars in penalties because of what leaders say was an unrealistic construction schedule.

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