If you’ve never heard of Ammon, Idaho, you’re not alone. The town of 17,000 was not on my radar until a year ago as I was mapping out a strategy for providing broadband internet coverage in every corner of Oldham County.
Turns out Ammon is a national model for local government and residents working together to ensure broadband coverage for all. For Ammon, reliable high-speed internet access is no longer a “nice-to-have” or something “most people” have. Every Ammon resident has broadband access and is offered options in pricing and performance. And while many cities and towns are dominated by perhaps a couple internet service providers, Ammon residents have choices. Lots of them.
That is my goal for Oldham County — ensuring broadband infrastructure is in place to provide every resident access to reliable internet, with cost and performance options available. When we reach that goal, perhaps Oldham County can be a model, as well.
This endeavor is necessary because there are still many residents lacking dependable internet, even in Oldham County. Business development can be challenging because there are areas in the county where a lack of connectivity leads to reluctance to open new retail or office space. It’s a struggle for farmers who rely on internet for everything from weather radar to purchasing equipment (and their children struggle to do online school assignments).
Oldham County’s fiber expansion starts with installing a robust broadband infrastructure, which will help attract a number of internet service providers and create competitive offerings and pricing options.
That infrastructure is taking shape with the help of the KentuckyWired initiative. KentuckyWired is a state-run project constructing more than 3,000 miles of high-speed, high- capacity fiber-optic cable in every Kentucky county. Called the “middle mile,” the project will connect government offices, universities, state police posts and dozens of other government agencies throughout the state to the global internet.
The KentuckyWired system also is available for internet service providers, allowing them to connect high-speed internet to residents and businesses in communities and rural areas throughout the state.
With KentuckyWired passing through Oldham County, we took advantage of an opportunity to upgrade service for our residents by purchasing 25 miles of ‘overbuild’ on a section of the KentuckyWired network. We’re determined to create new opportunities with existing and new providers for residents in all areas of the county.
But, for this project to succeed in Oldham, it must be a true “local” network, where residents have “ownership” in the fiber and providers compete to serve them.
This quest for countywide broadband is not merely about bandwidth. It’s also about service. To that end, interviews were conducted with several consultants with experience necessary to help us take the next step, and we chose Lit Communities. With the help of Lit Communities, we’re surveying residents and businesses to gather information about their current broadband access, level of satisfaction with their provider, and current subscription costs. We’re also exploring whether there is demand for more levels of service and other options.
This pursuit will require patience. Following completion of the survey this fall, Lit Communities will assist the county in developing a business plan for moving forward. While we are eager to move this project forward, we’re mindful of properly understanding each of the steps and moving at a responsible pace.
Like never before, during this COVID-19 era we’re witnessing in real time why high-speed internet is essential – for purposes of remote learning, working from home and telemedicine, to name a few. That demand for connectivity will not subside with the pandemic.
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Every community in every state is experiencing that same realization. I’m confident Oldham County is poised to be on the leading edge of this evolution. But this is about more than one county — it’s about the entire commonwealth.
According to U.S. Census data, Kentucky ranks 44th nationally for percentage of residents with internet subscriptions. Once KentuckyWired is complete, the commonwealth can be in the top five. With completion, Kentucky will be the only state in the nation to build an open-access fiber-optic cable network for every county.
And with that, Kentucky can be a true national model.
David Voegele is Oldham County judge-executive.
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