FRANKFORT — A little more than 90 percent of Kentucky residents have access to high-speed or broadband Internet.
In a classroom, that would be an A-. But scored on a curve, Kentucky is barely passing. The state is 40th out of 50 states for access to high-speed Internet.
Utah is at the top with nearly 98 percent of its residents having access to high-speed Internet, said Brian Kiser, director of the Kentucky Commonwealth Office of Broadband Outreach and Development.
The Commonwealth Office of Broadband Outreach and Development, funded in part by federal stimulus money, is mapping Kentucky's broadband accessibility. Its mission is to improve Kentucky's access to high-speed Internet, which will in turn help with educational attainment and economic development, studies show.
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Although 91.5 percent of Kentucky households have access to high-speed Internet, some of that access is too slow or too expensive, Kiser said.
"Some of it is too slow, and we don't really consider it access," Kiser said in remarks before a legislative subcommittee on rural issues last week.
The majority of people with high-speed Internet access are in the "golden triangle" of Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky. That's roughly 2.25 million people, or 55 percent of the population. The rest of the state has patches of areas where high-speed Internet is available, Kiser said.
The Commonwealth Office of Broadband Outreach and Development is working with the non-profit Connect Kentucky and Connected Nation as well as other local non-profit and government groups to find ways to increase high-speed Internet access throughout Kentucky.
About 1.4 million people have access to high-speed Internet access but don't use it. That's because many people don't know it's available or it's too expensive, Kiser said.
The office is partnering with the state's area development districts on educational campaigns and to find ways to address high-speed Internet dead zones. The office also partnered recently with Community Action to put computers with high-speed Internet access in its offices in Western Kentucky so low-income people will have access to the Internet.
In addition to helping education and the economy, high-speed Internet helps rural communities keep talent at home, Kiser said.
"It's more opportunities for distance learning," he said. "It makes our citizens more competitive. It's also a huge deciding factor for businesses."
Kiser said that a mother recently called to complain that her son had to drive 20 minutes to a local library to complete a test for school because the family's Internet connection was too slow and kept timing out while her son was trying to take the online test, Kiser said.
A child with high-speed Internet access has an advantage over a child without, Kiser said. Companies looking to locate in Kentucky now demand high-speed Internet access. If rural counties want those companies, they have to have high-speed Internet access, Kiser said.
"It's what water, electricity and roads were in the past," he said. "Now, the question is, 'Do you have broadband?'"
Sen. Paul Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville, said access to affordable high-speed Internet is a top priority for his constituents.
"I get more complaints about that than anything else," Hornback said during the rural subcommittee meeting last week. The only access many people have in his mostly rural district is wireless Internet.
Rep. Jim DeCesare, a Republican from Bowling Green, said local governments could do more to encourage more providers in rural areas.
"We still have access issues," DeCesare said. "We need to get local governments to get involved and offer incentives to providers to share poles."