Legislative committee hears update on ‘last mile’ broadband expansion project
FRANKFORT— The beginning stages of a plan to bring high-speed, reliable internet access to every home and business in the Commonwealth is underway.
Legislators on the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue received an update today from State Budget Director John Hicks on the “last mile” broadband expansion project that focuses on underserved areas of the state.
Hicks informed the committee that a “request for information” (RFI) and a map of underserved areas will launch within the next two weeks.
“(The RFI’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.”
During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed two bills to allocate a total $300 million to broadband expansion in Kentucky. House Bill 320 allocated $250 million to broadband expansion in rural, underserved areas, while House Bill 382 allocated $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be used for economic development-related broadband.
This is the first time Kentucky has launched a project like this, Hicks said, adding that the state has been looking at federal guidance and how other states have expanded broadband. The information they receive from the RFI will be a major component in finalizing the state’s plan for the project.
Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, wanted to make it clear to constituents during the meeting that this “last mile” project is not Kentucky Wired.
Several other legislators, including Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, also expressed concerns about Kentucky Wired. “I want to make sure that Kentucky Wired and any of its subsidiaries are not going to be included in this process,” Fleming said.
Hicks reassured the committee that Kentucky Wired would not be involved with the implementation of the project, however, the program has enlisted the help of someone who is an employee of Kentucky Wired as a “subject matter expert.”
Fleming also expressed concerns the potential procurement process laid out in Hicks’ presentation, adding he wants quality of services to be strongly considered.
“I would really strongly encourage you to look at a quality based selection in order to procure this in a very prudent manner,” Fleming added.
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, inquired about internet service providers input on the project. Hicks assured him that the RFI procurement process is being used to hear from internet service providers.
As of today, Hicks did not have a detailed timeline of how and when the project will be completed. Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, asked for Hicks to produce one, even if it is an estimate, in the next few weeks so the committee can stay updated on the project.
The next Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue meeting is scheduled for July 7 at 1 p.m.