KNOX COUNTY – Residents in the Bailey Switch and Owens Hollow communities in Gray will soon have access to dependable broadband internet access thanks to a $99,840 grant from The Center of Rural Development, work from local and state officials and the generosity of community partners.
In announcing the project Friday, Knox County Judge-Executive Mike Mitchell said initially 210 homes would benefit from the project installing internet throughout the community. However, he said the service provider partnered in the project, OnPoint Broadband, had informed him that an additional 30 homes would be hooked-up to their services because of the way they were laying-out the project.
“We’re looking at 240 homes,” he said on the project, also noting that OnPoint had agreed to help cover the remaining balance of the project’s $249,600 total.
“We were excited the county chose OnPoint to carry out the project,” said OnPoint Manager Derek Eubanks in a press release. “We believe we’re able to provide excellent internet service at an affordable price, and look forward to serving this community.”
Along with OnPoint’s generosity, the project is funded through grant money being provided by The Center for Rural Development’s Move the Needle Program, which was created when the COVID-19 pandemic further revealed the need for robust, reliable broadband for everyone throughout the commonwealth, The Center said.
“This program is another step toward making broadband available to everyone in The Center’s service area,” said Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center in a press release “We are pleased to be able to assist Knox County in making this first project a reality. Our goal with the Move the Needle program is to fund similar projects in as many of our 45 counties as possible.”
“I’ll tell you right now, [the internet] needs to be identified as a utility,” said State Representative Tom O’Dell Smith, who was present during Friday’s announcement.
“If you don’t understand how important it is go back to the days of our pandemic and look at where the schools were going to have to do their teaching from home and their learning from home,” Smith continued. “We had kids at the Walmart that’s sitting there so they can get on the wifi to do their homework. So, that shows that we need to get it up the hollows,” he added.
“Digital prosperity is crucial for rural economic development,” noted Jennifer Hampton with Workforce Development. Hampton said having better internet access also helped local employers and job seekers, which can lead to lower rates of unemployment in a community.
“Approximately 88 percent of employed Knox County residents commute outside of the county for employment,” Hampton added. “So we want to get those back into the county.”
Hampton said that according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019, 70.9 percent of Knox County households had a computer. Of that population, Hampton said only 58 percent of those Knox Countians with a computer also had broadband internet, which is significantly lower than the state’s total of 78.4 percent with access to broadband internet.
The project and Friday’s announcement comes as the culminations of years of work performed by the state in setting up its KentuckyWired program. Established during the tenure of former Governor Steve Beshear, KentuckyWired is a first-of-its-kind state initiative that aims to provide high-speed broadband internet to all 120 Kentucky counties. Current officials with the program have said that now the project is completed, it is up to counties and local communities on how to connect the “last mile” to KentuckyWired’s “interstate-like system” installed throughout the Commonwealth.
Friday’s announcement is just that, with the county’s fiscal court working with community partners in connecting its residents to to high-speed internet access. However, Rep. Smith urged those attending Friday’s announcement to continue their work in bringing more homes internet access and to take advantage of the funding currently being provided.
“This is our opportunity. If we miss this window, we’re going to leave future generations behind,” Smith said, before adding, “But right now, the fruit is hanging from the limbs. Let’s grab it. Let’s encourage everybody to come together and work in unity.”