Computer ownership and broadband use in Kentucky trail national levels as high-speed Internet service becomes more vital to the economy, new U.S. Census estimates show.
Kentucky's poverty rate also remains stuck above the national rate.
There was good news in the estimates as well, however, including growth in the percentage of Kentucky residents with a bachelor's degree or above and an increase in household income.
The findings were from the U.S. Census bureau's one-year survey results for 2013, released Thursday.
The survey included questions on computer ownership and broadband subscriptions for the first time, according to a news release.
The Census estimated 79.2 percent of households in Kentucky have a computer, which included desktop models, laptops, tablets and smartphones. The national level was 83.8 percent.
Kentucky ranked 45th among 50 states and the District of Columbia on the measure of computer ownership, according to the Kentucky State Data Center.
The Census survey estimated that 68.5 percent of Kentucky's households had a subscription to broadband Internet service in 2013, compared to 74.4 percent of households nationwide.
Kentucky ranked 42nd of 51 on that measure, according to the state data center.
The center said 26.2 percent of the state's households don't maintain any kind of Internet access.
The numbers mirror other sources that have found that Kentucky has considerable ground to make up on access to the kind of high-speed Internet service that has taken on critical importance in the global economy.
"It is certainly accurate to conclude that much of Kentucky lacks access to the important tool of broadband," said Matthew H. Ruther, director of the data center, which is at the University of Louisville.
Other measures have found that the state ranks 46th in the availability of broadband; that 23 percent of rural areas have no access to such service; and that the average download speed in the state is slower than in the nation — 7.3 megabits per second compared to 10, though speeds vary widely in the state.
Computer ownership and broadband usage also vary. The Census survey estimated that in Fayette County, 87.4 percent of households have some kind of computer and 77.6 percent of households subscribe to Internet service. In Pike County, the only Eastern Kentucky county included in the numbers released Thursday, an estimated 74.6 percent of households have a computer, and Internet subscriptions stood at 64.1 percent.
Many counties are lower, but the estimates released Thursday were only for the nation, states, metro areas and counties with populations of more than 65,000.
However, the state data center calculated that the percentage of homes with Internet service ranges between 50 percent and 60 percent across much of the rural southern tier of the state, as well as in southeastern Kentucky and the northeast part of the state.
There is a project underway to greatly expand access to high-speed Internet across the state.
Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced a $100 million public-private initiative this year to build 3,000 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure around the state, starting in Eastern Kentucky.
The project is being promoted as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, effort to boost and diversify Eastern Kentucky's economy in the wake of deep job cuts in the coal industry.
The state legislature approved $30 million in bonds for the project and the federal government has committed $20 million.
In response to a solicitation, the state received a number of proposals from private companies to take part in the project, said Brian E. Kiser, head of the state's Office of Broadband Outreach and Development.
The state is considering different approaches to getting the job done — either hiring a partner to help the state design, finance and build the network, or seeking private-sector investment in the state's construction.
The plan is to choose the best approach and start construction this year, with the goal of finishing the statewide network within 18 to 24 months, Kiser said.
Officials have said improved high-speed Internet across Kentucky could be a boon to education, health care, safety and economic development.
"We would really like to tout this as a huge incentive for any type of tech business to relocate to Kentucky," Kiser said.
In other measures in the Census estimates released Thursday, the percentage of residents age 25 and older with a bachelor's degree or higher rose from 21.8 in 2012 to 22.6 in 2013, according to the Kentucky State Data Center.
That level has been steadily increasing in recent years, but Kentucky still trails the national figure of 29.6 percent.
Kentucky also saw a statistically significant 2.8 percent increase in the median household income level from 2012 to 2013, reaching $43,399.
However, the number of people living below the poverty line, at 18.8 percent, remained statistically unchanged from 2012, the data center said.
Nationwide, real median household income in 2013 was still 8 percent lower than in 2007, before the deep recession that began in 2008.
The Census plans to release estimates with county-level data later this year.