Frankfort, Ky. (AP) – Looking to close its digital divide, Kentucky will use a $386 million investment to expand high-speed Internet access to more than 42,600 homes and businesses, Gov. Andy Bessier said this on Tuesday.
This is a record investment amount of broadband money for Kentucky, a combination of public and private sector funding that will be spread widely among 46 counties, Bessier said. It’s the next step in a bipartisan policy goal to connect every Kentucky home and business to reliable, high-speed Internet.
“High-speed Internet is no longer a luxury,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference. “It’s an absolute infrastructure requirement.”
Kentucky policymakers are pursuing long-term efforts to connect areas with no Internet access or chronically slow service. The lack of continued access in some parts of the state was laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote work and schools were hampered by significant gaps in connectivity.
Republican House Speaker David Osborne said the latest round of funding shows the GOP-led Legislature’s goal of expanding broadband access is “within reach.” He pointed to legislative initiatives that created and funded the Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund and the Office of Broadband Development.
“While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, much work remains before Kentuckians across the commonwealth can access high-speed Internet,” Osborne said in a statement following the governor’s announcement.
The broadband awards are the result of a 2021 agreement between lawmakers and the governor to use $300 million in federal pandemic relief funds to expand broadband service.
In mid-2022, the governor announced the first round of awards from the state’s broadband deployment fund, totaling $89.1 million. Combined with matching funds, more than $203 million was committed to ensure access to more than 34,000 families and businesses, the governor’s office said.
On Tuesday, the governor awarded 56 grants totaling more than $196 million in public funds from the Broadband Deployment Fund. Internet service providers receiving grant funds will collectively contribute more than $190 million to the fund.
Bessier said the state’s broadband expansion has “bigger days ahead,” pointing to the nearly $1.1 billion in federal grants the state secured this year. It would amount to the largest public investment in high-speed Internet in the state’s history, the governor’s office said. Bessier said he hopes the state can cut the first $200 million from that amount by the end of the year.
It’s part of a “transformational” push to achieve universal, reliable Internet access nationwide, he said.
“We’re talking about access everywhere,” Bessier said. “This does not mean universal access except where it is difficult, or where the terrain is difficult. Our goal is high speed internet for all. There is no hope.”