Legislation passes to set aside $250 million in funding for broadband
HB 320, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Reed and co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Petrie, sets aside $250 million in federal funds to provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas in Kentucky and allows electric coops to deploy broadband services.
Prior to COVID-19, access to affordable broadband was a top issue for county leaders across the Commonwealth. 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 available;
- 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," said bill sponsor Rep. Reed.
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 of provision broadband service, before December 31, 2021.
Underserved area - any project area where fixed, terrestrial broadband service with a minimum twenty-five (25) megabits per second downstream and three (3) megabits per second upstream is not available;
Unserved area - any project area where fixed, terrestrial broadband service with a minimum ten (10) megabits per second downstream and one (1) megabit per second upstream is not available