Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) today announced it received a $60,000 grant from Connect Humanity to build a Broadband Master Plan and provide Eastern Kentucky communities with a detailed model for winning state and federal broadband funds.
“SOAR understands the importance of connectivity and what it means to the viability of our region moving forward,” said Colby Hall, Executive Director of SOAR. “When I visit leaders in communities, they all recognize the value and impact of last-mile connectivity, but the question always is ‘How do we physically do it?’”
Starting with Boyd County, funding from Connect Humanity will provide a Broadband Master Plan through a partnership with Biarri Networks and EntryPoint Networks that outlines specific work local community leaders must complete to be prepared for state and federal broadband grant applications. This will include the formation of a local fiber board; financial modeling; market assessment; network design; engineering support; and other technical analysis needed for potential grants and public-private partnerships. Once the model is established, SOAR will work with Connect Humanity to share it with other communities across Eastern Kentucky.
To jump-start this work, SOAR has created EKY Connect, which provides a broadband survey, to identify gaps and opportunities related to accessibility throughout the region. While the pilot project is in Boyd County, citizens from throughout Eastern Kentucky are encouraged to participate, as the long-term vision is to support communities throughout the region in establishing a Broadband Master Plan.
“To reverse the population outflows we have experienced in Eastern Kentucky, we can’t just look to traditional methods of economic development,” added Hall. “The projected growth in remote work opportunities can’t be ignored. These opportunities, combined with strategic planning and training, have the potential to stop the out-migration of our best and brightest.”
“This master plan is the critical first step to building the digital infrastructure and skills the region needs to thrive and to make sure all its communities can experience the internet’s full benefits”, said Jane Coffin, Connect Humanity, Chief Community Officer. “Leaders and residents here understand all too well the importance of digital equity and we’re excited to work with them, alongside our partners at EntryPoint and Biarri, to help build better broadband for everyone in Eastern Kentucky.
The grant from Connect Humanity will build on the work of Congressman Hal Rogers, Governor Andy Beshear, Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman, and the Center for Rural Development, who have been instrumental in the deployment and support of the KentuckyWired middle-mile network in Eastern Kentucky.
“Broadband connectivity is a gateway for global competition and new job opportunities in Eastern Kentucky,” said Congressman Hal Rogers, cofounder of SOAR. “I applaud SOAR for leading the way with a master plan that will help local leaders through the process of expanding rural broadband into the deepest parts of our communities. We must plan our work and work our plan as we connect our region to high-performance broadband and new opportunities.”
SOAR is currently working with Cumberland Valley Electric on a similar but unrelated project as they consider offering broadband service across their nine-county service territory in Southeastern Kentucky. That project was made possible thanks to a $50,000 planning grant received in 2021 from the Appalachian Regional Commission.