General Assembly allocates $300 million for broadband
Prior to COVID-19, access to affordable broadband was a top issue for county leaders across Kentucky. Once COVID-19 hit, and counties, schools and businesses transitioned to a virtual format, the need for affordable access became even more apparent and acute.
“It’s not really unlike electricity or gas and coal-fired combustion engines,” Calloway County Judge/Executive Kenny Imes told attendees of the 2020 KACo Conference. “It’s just as essential as anything we have anymore, and not enough focus has been placed on this need. If we don’t get a handle on it soon, the problem is going to get worse and more expensive for us to catch up.”
HB 320 provides critical funding, infusing the Broadband Deployment Fund with $250 million in federal funds in fiscal year 2022. The Fund, administered by the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, was established last year to provide grants to government agencies and private entities to deploy broadband service in unserved and underserved areas.
The bill directs that no more than $50 million of that funding can be awarded before April 1, 2022.
Funding for broadband projects will be awarded based on the following criteria (in the order listed):
- Projects in underserved or unserved areas where local, state or federal funds are not currently designated;
- Projects within underserved areas or unserved areas where local, state, or federal broadband funds are inadequate; and
- Projects that reach the customers that are the least economical to serve.
Funded projects will require a match of at least 50 percent of the total project cost, which can be private funds or from a city, county, urban county government or consolidated local government.
HB 320 includes language that will allow electric cooperatives to deploy broadband, which could be a gamechanger in counties that don't have providers. “HB 320 will clear the way for rural electric cooperatives to feasibly provide broadband services to underserved and unserved households," bill sponsor Rep. Brandon Reed said.
In addition, the bill directs the Public Service Commission to promulgate administrative regulations regarding pole attachments under the commission’s jurisdiction, including those necessary for the provision of broadband service, before Dec. 31, 2021.
HB382, sponsored by Rep. Richard Heath, was amended to allocate an additional $50 million to be used for “projects that provide broadband service in furtherance of securing economic development opportunities for commercial and industrial customers, excluding the broadband service provider itself." The additional $50 million must be spent by the end of FY21.
HB382 also states the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority will oversee receiving complaints of insufficient broadband, quarterly reporting the complaints to the Legislative Research Commission and referring them to the Kentucky Attorney General, Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.
Underserved area - any project area where fixed, terrestrial broadband service with a minimum 25 megabits per second downstream and three megabits per second upstream is not available.
Unserved area - any project area where fixed, terrestrial broadband service with a minimum 10 megabits per second downstream and one megabit per second upstream is not available.