Recently, the Herald-Leader published a column by Tom Eblen addressing Kentucky's lackluster ranking on broadband speed. The statistics and anecdotal evidence presented in the column paint a dismal picture of where our commonwealth is in this vital area.
High-speed broadband access is about more than the ability to watch Netflix, Skype with a loved one, or check the latest news. In today's technology-driven economy, broadband speed means access to jobs.
None can dispute the impact the Internet has had on society and the remarkable opportunities that have opened up to Kentuckians, especially those of us in rural areas. The direct influence that high-speed Internet access (or a lack thereof) has on everyday communication, education, health care and economic development is nothing short of remarkable.
From an economic perspective, it has given us the ability to open up areas of Kentucky's great work force and utilize our strategic geographic location to partner with job creators throughout the world. However, as other states, and indeed other parts of the world, increase their broadband speed, we find ourselves falling short as we compete for economic growth through both the attraction of new businesses and the expansion of current ones.
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This is not for a lack of trying though. There are steps we can take to improve Kentucky's ranking in broadband availability and speed. We know it will take significant capital investment from private communications providers to deploy more and faster broadband technologies.
Legislation has been proposed and debated in each of the past three sessions of the General Assembly that would remove some antiquated regulatory controls that stifle providers from being able to increase broadband access throughout Kentucky.
Senate Bill 99 passed the state Senate with overwhelming support this past year, as well as the House Economic Development Committee. However, Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Democrat leadership would not even allow a debate or vote on the bill by the full House, despite bipartisan pleas to do so.
Neighboring states like Indiana, Tennessee and most of the states in the Southeast have already passed similar legislation and are seeing new investment. These states understand that forcing communications providers to invest in old technology that is best described as "manufacturer discontinued" is holding back their ability to attract and retain jobs.
That is significant, especially when we think about the boost our economy receives with the addition of high-tech jobs and an expanding tax base.
This decision by Stumbo and House Democrat leadership, like many others, has unfortunately had a real effect on the lives of Kentuckians as we will go, at minimum, another year before these private businesses can focus on increasing broadband speed throughout the commonwealth. It is another year in which we risk falling further behind our neighboring states and others in the competitive world of economic development.
Luckily, voters will have the chance this November to demand change in Frankfort and elect men and women who are tired of seeing our state suffer economically because of the political agendas of a few. If given the opportunity to lead, I can assure you a House Republican majority would make economic growth in all regions of Kentucky and the strengthening of our ability to compete in regional, national and global markets top priorities, and would pass the legislation, such as this, that is necessary to do so.