KentuckyWired may not spell the end of students’ connection woes

KentuckyWired was once considered an answered prayer for families across the Bluegrass, where broadband Internet access is among the worst in the nation. No one told us that prayer would turn out to be a Hail Mary.

More than a third of Kentucky students lack adequate Internet access, a major reason why the KentuckyWired project was launched in 2015. The idea was that Kentucky could expand access to each of its 120 counties by building a “backbone” of high-speed fiber optic cable across the state. Five years, countless hiccups, and a global health crisis later, the project is still just over 80% finished. Despite KentuckyWired’s scheduled completion later this year, there’s still no guarantee that it will solve Kentucky’s chronic connectivity issues, either.

Because as it turns out, KentuckyWired has a huge catch.

KentuckyWired is only contractually responsible for running the fiber optic across the state. For families and business owners who actually want to connect to the new high-speed network, the responsibility still falls on Internet service providers (ISPs) to build out more fiber for homes and businesses. In other words, despite having this shiny new “information highway” across the state, Kentucky families still won’t have Internet access until these highly-profitable, private telecommunications companies get around to building the exit ramps.

They don’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to supporting low-income families, either. 

Though they may have feigned support for expanding access back in March, ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have stubbornly refused to waive policies that deny reconnection privileges to low-income families who owe outstanding debts. And the FCC, the same which oversees all these companies and even launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge at the onset of this pandemic, has shown little interest in making them do the right thing.

Even in a state with major connectivity issues, the message they’re sending has been clearly received: Unless you can afford us, you’re on your own. 

Now, with major school districts like Jefferson and Fayette Counties already deciding to begin the school year with distance learning, Kentucky’s most underserved students will only fall further behind without access to high-speed Internet.

We can’t allow that to happen.  So here’s what we can do. 

First, sign this petition to and tell the FCC to urge wireless companies to waive their no-debt policy for reconnection. In the middle of a global public health crisis, low-income families shouldn’t have to weather yet another barrier to access. 

Then, join me at Brave New Teaching KY so we can expand this conversation to include more voices from around the Bluegrass. Once KentuckyWired is completed, we’ll need a strong network and strategy to push wireless companies to do the right thing by expanding access.

Kentucky may be lagging behind right now, but this is an issue we can solve. Let’s do so together. 

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