KentuckyWired, a bold plan to bring broadband Internet access to thousands of rural families, is set to make the Bluegrass State the envy of the nation. Eventually.
That’s because the bipartisan plan to provide rural Kentucky families with high-speed Internet access is currently years behind schedule and $100 million over budget, as revealed in an ongoing investigation by the Courier Journal and ProPublica. The project was supposed to turn Kentucky into “Silicon Holler” by kickstarting the economies of rural Kentucky communities, but the project is completely up in the air now.
Currently, it’s estimated that Kentucky taxpayers could be on the hook for a cool $1.5 billion, which is roughly fifty times more than anticipated. Given that Kentucky’s proposed “information highway” is beginning to look like a road to nowhere, is it still possible to resolve KentuckyWired’s glitches without breaking the Bluegrass State’s bank?
As it turns out, we have no idea.
There’s no way to know what’s going to happen with KentuckyWired. It’s been an absolute policy disaster, and the few that are actually talking about it don’t seem to have any concrete solutions.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear has been relatively mum on the issue. However, his campaign manager Eric Hyers issued an email statement to the Courier Journal saying that Beshear’s path to fixing KentuckyWired would begin with a cost-benefit analysis of the project.
“As governor, Andy’s first step will be evaluating the KentuckyWired program in a nonpartisan way focused on both its costs and potential benefits for our families. From there, he can keep what’s working and change what isn’t.”
The problem is that we already have a pretty solid understanding of what is and isn’t working with KentuckyWired. When the public-private deal was negotiated between the state of Kentucky and the private investment team Macquarie, Kentucky agreed to pay up to $1.2 billion over the next 30 years under the assumption that KentuckyWired would make money from providing Internet access to third party users like families and businesses. However, that was the catch: the agreement stated that Kentucky has to make those payments whether KentuckyWired actually generates any revenue or not, and obviously, it’s not doing much money at all right now.
Given that Beshear is the son of the former governor who helped pioneer the KentuckyWired project, it’s also bit disappointing that he hasn’t released a more detailed plan of his own. Surely he must have some ideas about how Kentucky could bring in new partners or look to models in other states for guidance. Considering his underwhelming primary performance in Eastern Kentucky, putting forward a strong solution to the KentuckyWired conundrum could give Beshear the push he needs in rural areas around the Commonwealth.
It would also give him another upper hand on Governor Matt Bevin, who’s drawing more criticism by the day for failing to keep KentuckyWired on schedule. So far, Bevin has repeatedly declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into KentuckyWired, instead blaming the project’s woes on the previous administration.
Next question is about broadband. Bevin calls KentuckyWired a “pig in a poke” left to him by Steve Beshear admin. Says his admin is doing best to make it work. Points to 1st ring recently completed. Says broadband important for rural KY.
— Chris Williams (@chriswnews) July 17, 2019
While Bevin was not responsible for negotiating the KentuckyWired deal, critics have questioned his commitment to the project. With the newly scheduled completion date slated for 2020, Bevin says he has some “incentives” to get more private sector partners involved, but we have yet to see any specifics on that.
Bevin talking about “incentives” for the private sector to build the last mile of the KentuckyWired project connecting it to middle mile. Didn’t hear specifics on what incentives those would be and to who.
— Joe Sonka 😐 (@joesonka) July 17, 2019
Brushing all that aside, KentuckyWired provided Bevin with one of his most notable scandals last year when it was announced that he was giving a $215k raise to his chief information officer Charles Grindle, an old friend from his Army days. Take one whiff of corruption and mix it with years of delays and overspending, and it’s easy to see why Bevin has become a punching bag over the whole affair.
Meanwhile, in a time where education is becoming increasingly virtual, rural families and students continue to be left in the dark about KentuckyWired while the digital divide grows even further.
Is there anyone out there with a plan to get us out of this mess?