Broadband is our region’s bridge to the 21st-century economy.
In 2021, Kentucky permanently authorized Medicaid coverage for certain telehealth benefits because expanding access to medical providers supports better public health outcomes.
Broadband also enhances individual student outcomes. Kids with access to digital learning resources, such as at-home broadband and internet-enabled devices, may be less likely to fall behind peers in their schoolwork.
The solution to regional unemployment challenges may also lie with broadband expansion.
50% of the 125 million full-time jobs in the US can be done remotely. With 30% of US workers wanting to be fully remote and at least 60% wanting to work from home for part of the week, it’s clear: remote work is here to stay.
Employers are leveraging this opportunity to source talent from all over the country, especially in areas with lower living costs. Appalachian Kentucky is one such area poised to receive more interest from remote employers — which offers us a powerful solution to the region’s chronic unemployment and underemployment.
In response, SOAR launched EKY Remote to help new residents and employers make the most of these new economic opportunities. As a community leader yourself, you are already asking yourself: how can I leverage these changing times to benefit my residents?
The answer lies with cooperation and collaboration — with other cities and counties — to best position yourself for long-term success.
Broadband projects are complex, expensive, and time-consuming, but there’s a record amount of state and federal funding now available to help. If we wish to bring full broadband coverage to all residents, local leaders must seek partnerships, share data, collaborate, and leverage every available resource to pursue funding.
Then, once our region gains internet access at increased speeds and more affordable rates, we must help residents prepare for and seek out remote employment.
We are stronger when we work together. SOAR provides a library of broadband-related resources to help ease your journey. Here is a roundup of all the available resources for cities and counties in Eastern Kentucky.
How can cities and counties work together on broadband projects?
It takes many minds, thousands of hours, and a variety of skillsets to make a rural broadband installation project happen.
Keep in mind just how much work will need to get done:
- Mapping and feasibility
- Contractor bidding
- Materials sourcing
- Construction management
- Project management
- Utilities coordination
- Funds match sourcing
- Grant writing and grants administration
If communities don’t take leadership roles in project formation, those hard-to-reach places will easily fall out of sight and out of mind. That’s why the most successful projects are the result of cross-city and cross-county partnerships. By collaborating with communities that are already invested in the same types of outcomes, you can go further, faster.
What happens when cities and counties don’t work together
When cities and counties decide not to collaborate, residents miss out on major opportunities to improve their lives.
Grants go to other regions
Grantors strive to maximize their funds’ impact. The greater the reach of a project — more residents and businesses supported, faster speeds, etc. — the higher likelihood that a project will win money.
Even though we represent some of the greatest-need areas for broadband funding, our region has missed out on grant opportunities in the past. Only a handful of SOAR counties won funds from the Governor’s first round of Better Internet funding in 2022. This is a lesson learned — now’s the time to prepare to win during the next round.
Just because we need them the most doesn’t mean the grants will come to us. We have to apply — and do it well — to have a winning chance at receiving these funds.
Project costs may increase
Projects are often more expensive when the scope is smaller. That’s because you’re missing out on economies of scale: materials, labor, and time are spent more efficiently when you place larger orders and cover more ground.
Plus, internet subscriptions can become more expensive for customers when the service area of a project is smaller. Larger, more consolidated, multi-county proposals serve residents best over the long run.
Unemployment and underemployment persist
Disconnected residents continue to miss it out on remote career, education, social, and telehealth opportunities available to most Americans today. We all know what happens next — more and more graduates and qualified workers will continue moving to other cities and states to pursue careers. We need to give them access to these opportunities here in Appalachian Kentucky.
What happens when cities and counties work together
When cities and counties are willing to collaborate, everybody wins. Here’s what we anticipate as a result of sharing broadband efforts across our region:
- The odds of winning funds are higher.
- Project implementation is more likely.
- More residents gain comprehensive broadband coverage.
- Workforce opportunities are better.
- The unemployment rate will decrease.
- More businesses will be incentivized to operate here.
- Moving elsewhere becomes a choice, not a necessity.
Consider the possibilities if we think regionally. If 3 counties had the same challenges and goals, submitting a joint application may not only increase your chances of winning funds, it can also make the implementation process a bit easier.
Get funded: Broadband grants and programs for EKY
Getting funded will be one of your first projects to tackle. Applying for grants requires you to think through your entire broadband plan. Be prepared to chart out what you’ll need, how much it’ll cost, and how you’ll remain accountable to your funders throughout the life of the grant.
Take a look at the following list of funding opportunities currently available to Eastern Kentucky cities and counties. These opportunities fluctuate frequently, and new opportunities are continually coming online. Review SOAR Broadband listings for a current roundup of available and fast-approaching grant openings.
- Connect Humanity: Furnished by an ARC ARISE grant, Connect Humanity will provide 50 communities with the support they need to develop plans that connect all residents with affordable high-speed broadband, improved device access, and digital literacy training. This program will help communities plan broadband projects by conducting feasibility studies, creating network design, and building business plans. Apply here.
- BEAD: Kentucky will receive approximately $1 billion in federal funds. The Kentucky Office of Broadband Development will be issuing these funds. Stay tuned to SOAR’s channels for a link to apply once it comes online.
- Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund: The Better Kentucky initiative will make $300 million available for awards to bring broadband to no-service, unserved, and underserved addresses in eligible areas. The most recent funding round has just closed. .
Resources to help you seek funding
SOAR developed a comprehensive resource library for cities and counties seeking broadband funding. Consult these free downloadable guides, blog posts, and maps to leverage the latest guidance for your project.
- Getting Funded: The 2022 Manual for Writing & Winning Broadband Grants
- The Remote Work Playbook for Eastern Kentucky Leaders
- Use the Eastern Kentucky Federal Funding Map to Plan Your Next Broadband Project
- How to Form a Fiber Board
Career paths for remote workers
As you plan for broadband installation, remember your motivations. Achieving the desired result — empowering more residents with gainful career opportunities — should help you remain inspired and see the project through.
Various career opportunities are available for remote workers—from entry-level to experienced. Many provide full benefits, job training, and advancement opportunities.
The following non-exhaustive list proves that workers with diverse skills, backgrounds, and professional experiences can perform remote work. Recent graduates, career-changers, former coal workers, parents rejoining the workforce, and residents facing many other circumstances may be eligible.
Entry-level remote positions
- Call center/email/chat support representatives
- Data entry coordinators
- Medical records assistants
- Junior software developers
- Marketing and communications assistants
- Project coordinators
- Payroll coordinators
- Sales managers
- Marketing managers
- Software developers
- Project managers
- Human resource managers
For an updated list of current remote career opportunities, check out the Eastern Kentucky Job Board and the Eastern Kentucky Training Catalog.
Remote work training programs for Eastern Kentucky residents
Residents will need our help securing these positions—especially if this will be their first time accessing broadband and working from home.
We’ve rounded up the partners and programs designed to help candidates learn the skills for remote career paths, prepare to interview, and get hired.
#1: Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy
The Eastern Kentucky Office of Digital Literacy promotes increased adoption of broadband, connected devices, and cost-offset programs. The Office provides one-on-one training for sourcing remote jobs, creating a resume and LinkedIn profile, and sourcing specialized career training.
The Office also connects eligible residents with FCC subsidy programs, such as the Affordable Connectivity Program and Lifeline, to increase at-home broadband adoption.
#2: Teleworks USA
Teleworks USA sources candidates for entry-level tech support and customer service roles for businesses across the US. Its employer partnerships and customized training programs secure remote job placements that bring many folks into full-time positions with higher wages and benefits, including healthcare coverage and retirement savings plans.
#3: The Eastern Kentucky Training Catalog
The Eastern Kentucky Training Catalog is the product of a partnership between SOAR and SkillUp Coalition, a national leader in online career training. This initiative helps working-age residents outside the labor force identify and pursue training for new career opportunities.
Get support from SOAR
SOAR can help you organize, source partners, and make connections to plan your broadband project.
Consult our broadband-related resources to get started, and contact the team if you need further assistance.