Kentucky Democrats, Republicans take credit for broadband funding
(The Center Square) – Nearly $400 million will be spent in 46 Kentucky counties as part of a broadband expansion designed to provide more than 42,000 homes and businesses with high-speed internet access, and leaders from both parties were eager to take credit for it Tuesday.
Gov. Andy Beshear held a press conference Tuesday morning to announce the grant awards. In all, there were 56 awards to utilities and service suppliers. Those operators have agreed to provide $190.3 million in funding to match the $196.2 million coming from the Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund.
The operators will use that money to install fiber-optic cable that can connect those houses and businesses to high-speed internet service. Those grants will connect more than 25,000 locations that currently have access to slower-speed service. In addition, nearly 17,500 locations currently unserved will also be able to connect.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury anymore,” Beshear said. “It’s a necessity for work, school, health care and more, and every Kentuckian deserves access. During our first round of state funding, we made the largest investment in our history, and today we are breaking our own record with another historic milestone toward our promise to connect every home and business in the commonwealth to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.”
With more than a third of the state’s counties receiving funding, work will take place in all regions of Kentucky. That includes Fayette County, the state’s second most populous. Spectrum Mid-America received $3.8 million and plans to invest $4.7 million to bring high-speed access to more than 875 locations.
The Pennyrile Rural Electric Cooperative will get $2.3 million to fully match its investment to connect more than 630 homes and businesses.
“With these funds, we now are able to complete the coverage of Todd County from Lake Malone to McKinney Bend, from Big Pond Road to Fairgrounds Road and all areas in between,” Todd County Judge-Executive Todd Mansfield said in a statement. “With the availability of high-speed internet anywhere in Todd County, our residents, our students, our businesses and our industries will be able to thrive like never before.”
The announcement comes just two months before Beshear faces Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron for another four-year term. This year’s campaigns have been heated and a close race is expected Nov. 7.
The state’s share of the funding comes from $300 million in COVID relief dollars awarded to the state in the American Rescue Plan Act. Last year, the Republican-led General Assembly passed House Bill 315 to allocate those funds, but Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed part of the bill out of concerns that projects that were at the state level could be denied.
Republicans needed only simple majorities in both chambers to reject the veto. In a statement Tuesday, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said it was Republicans who led the charge to expand broadband access statewide and criticized Beshear for vetoing “critical provisions” of the bill.
Osborne also urged patience.
“While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, a great deal of work remains to be done before Kentuckians across the commonwealth have access to high-speed internet,” the speaker said.