Leadership of a public-private partnership building more than 3,000 miles of fiber broadband cable to all Kentucky counties says the project could potentially be finished by “mid-fall” after seeing mounting costs, years of delays and strong scrutiny in the past from state lawmakers.
KentuckyWired interim Executive Director Mike Hayden said during a Kentucky Communications Network Authority meeting Tuesday that the construction of the fiber broadband network is 99% complete, with small gaps of fiber left to be built. About 36 miles of fiber still needs to be installed in Western Kentucky — between Princeton and Ledbetter — due to holdups with installing fiber on poles, and another seven miles still needs to be built at Fort Knox.
The KentuckyWired network, launched in 2013, aims to build a “middle-mile” of fiber connection — creating statewide high speed internet infrastructure — to all 120 counties. Private companies and other entities are then supposed to build the “last mile” off of the fiber foundation to bring the internet connection to homes, businesses and more.
Building that last mile has been a tough ask in many rural Kentucky counties. Broadband experts say larger telecom companies often find it difficult to make it economically feasible to build out fiber broadband to homes in more sparsely populated rural areas.
Hayden also said more “migrations” are continuing to bring state offices and other public and private entities on to the network — including the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and regional public universities — hoping to begin bringing on those educational institutions starting in June. Network staff are also talking with the Administrative Office of the Courts to have the office use the broadband network.
“Finally, good news to present. So, we’ll continue to press forward, and hopefully in the next discussion we can say 100% [construction completion] and we’re finalizing all of our migrations,” Hayden said.
The effort has faced strong criticism in the past from state lawmakers for overspending at least $100 million and the years of delays experienced in getting the more than $300-million-dollar network live for businesses, public entities and households to use. Secretary for the Executive Cabinet J. Michael Brown, part of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority board overseeing KentuckyWired, said moving past previous criticism will be one of the major challenges for the project.
“I think now the big struggle is overcoming preconceived notions that have arisen really before the project got rolling going back now several years,” Brown said.
The CEO of the company in charge of selling connections to the KentuckyWired network said the network has had some success in particular with getting larger entities hooked up to the network, including Berea College and Harrison Memorial Hospital in Harrison County. But OpenFiber Kentucky LLC CEO David Flessas said local judge-executives have been more hesitant with using the network.
“Despite the network footprint that goes into all 120 counties, typically into the county seat, often into the county courthouse, we haven’t had great success signing up those county judge-executives,” Flessas said. “We’re hoping a managed wi-fi solution that allows them to sign up for a ‘connected downtown,’ if you will, will be more compelling.”
Two city utilities — one of them Murray Electric System — testified before state lawmakers last year about concerns that KentuckyWired would compete for internet customers with the local utilities. In a separate statehouse hearing, KentuckyWired leadership said those concerns were unfounded and that the network was not “looking to supplant municipal cooperatives.”