Setting record straight on essential public-private investment

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, left, and Gov. Matt Bevin spoke at a news conference about the state broadband project called KentuckyWired.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, left, and Gov. Matt Bevin spoke at a news conference about the state broadband project called KentuckyWired. Associated Press

In the interest of openness and transparency, the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA) would like to address some statements about KentuckyWired that have appeared in public lately so that Kentucky’s citizens can be properly informed. KCNA is the agency overseeing the project.

▪  Misconception No. 1: Stopping the project.

Some have mistakenly argued that it would save Kentucky money to cancel the project now — to “cut our losses.” It is critical to understand the money for this project has already been committed. Bonds to finance it have already been sold.

Canceling the project would be more expensive than continuing, with nothing to show for it in the end. Perhaps more important than the cost is the tremendous public service and economic development that would be undone if this project were stopped. “Cutting our losses” implies that we’d save money by terminating KentuckyWired, when it would actually cost more.

▪  Misconception No. 2: Eminent Domain.

Is KentuckyWired taking away people’s homes using eminent domain? Absolutely not. The majority of the KentuckyWired network will be over public land. However, at some locations it will need an easement to cross private land. Of property owners who have been approached, 99 percent have been willing to grant easements, perhaps in part because the project is hanging its aerial cable on existing poles. As for the other 1 percent, KCNA is trying everything possible to avoid using eminent domain (the government’s right to condemn property). If that becomes necessary, the commonwealth would only obtain the right to run its cable in the same location as the phone, cable and electric companies. KentuckyWired is absolutely not going to take away anyone’s property. To say otherwise is simply untrue.

▪  Misconception No. 3: It’s Not Necessary.

High-speed internet has become as important as water and electricity. There are many Kentuckians who do not have high-speed internet or cell phone service. Many of these are small business owners and farmers who desperately need high-speed internet to conduct business. Students need it to do research, use on-line curriculum materials, for on-line tutoring and to access libraries. Doctors and patients need it for long-distance consultations and video conferencing. Police need it to more quickly access cameras, blueprints, criminal records and other necessary information. Government offices need it to keep up with future needs of data transmission.

▪  Misconception No. 4: KentuckyWired is competing with private industry.

KentuckyWired will be an ultra-high-speed, high-capacity network to which private internet service providers (ISPs) can connect. KentuckyWired is building a “middle mile” network; the primary purpose of which is to give broadband service to state agencies. The network will also be the middle mile between the global internet and any company or organization that wants to lease access to the network’s extra capacity.

Think of it like a major highway with exit ramps into every county. KentuckyWired is not competing with ISPs so much as facilitating them, and making it easier for them to reach places they previously could not, or would not, go. New last-mile broadband service, including fiber to the home, will be spurred by our construction. Cell phone companies can also connect to KentuckyWired’s network and build more towers in more areas to bring better service to more customers. In government offices the commonwealth will own the network rather than lease it, a tremendous savings to the commonwealth.

▪  Misconception No. 5: Delays have cost too much money.

It is true construction delays come with extra costs. However, KentuckyWired is below average for the construction industry in its cost overruns, and provisions for delays and costs are part of the contract Kentucky signed. KCNA is doing everything in its power to avoid unnecessary costs.

It is also important to know that when the network is up and running, these costs will be recouped through leasing the fiber optic cable. KentuckyWired will eventually pay for itself.

Phillip Brown is the executive director of the Kentucky Communications Authority Network.