GRAY, Ky. – Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman joined local leaders and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) to celebrate a $50,000 grant dedicated to welcoming Kentucky’s electric co-ops into the state’s last mile of high-speed internet expansion efforts.
The funding is through an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant, which provides federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in the coal industry.
Cumberland Valley Electric is the first electric cooperative in Eastern Kentucky to take a public step forward into the high-speed internet arena.
“Functional internet is as important as electricity in 2021,” said Lt. Gov. Coleman. “Today’s announcement places a deserved greater value in providing every single Kentuckian with fast, reliable internet and building an economy of the future.”
When the Governor signed House Bill 320 from the 2021 General Assembly session, Kentucky joined neighboring states in allowing electric cooperatives to distribute internet services to unserved or underserved households and businesses in the commonwealth. The new regulations allow local internet providers and state-owned middle-mile networks to use electric co-ops’ existing infrastructure.
“This is huge for Eastern Kentucky,” said Colby Hall, executive director of SOAR. “The electric cooperatives have decades of experience serving customers in rural areas.”
The new law also allocates $250 million in matching broadband funds to aid in the expansion of rural internet services, a priority of the Beshear-Coleman administration throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need for strong, reliable internet access has increased exponentially with more families relying on internet services to stay informed and connected to school, work, family, church, health care and other critical services.
Through a bipartisan agreement with state legislators earlier this year, the Governor established a Better Kentucky Plan, which includes the Broadband Deployment Fund. The fund provides $300 million in state funds to address the connectivity needs of unserved and underserved communities across the commonwealth. Combined with at least 50% required matching federal investments, a minimum of $600 million will support high-speed internet expansion in Kentucky, creating more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Coupled with the Lieutenant Governor’s Internet Speed Test Kentucky initiative, which maps internet availability in all 120 counties, and the KentuckyWired project, the commonwealth has the potential to move to the forefront of high-speed internet expansion nationwide.
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