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'Silicon Holler' Broadband Internet planned for rural Kentucky

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 22, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 23 at 5:31 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- Despite proposed budget cuts to nearly every state agency, eastern Kentucky is the beneficiary of two big investments in Governor Steve Beshear's budget introduced Tuesday night, the widening of both the Mountain Parkway and of the "information superhighway."

At a Wednesday news conference, Governor Steve Beshear (D-Kentucky) and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky 5th District) explained their plan to link $60 million in state bonds to $40 million in federal and private sources to expand broadband Internet access in Kentucky. The first and main phase is in eastern Kentucky which Rogers represents, where 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure are planned within the next three years.

"We're calling it Kentucky's Super I-Way," Rogers paused, "Get it?"

Kentucky gets the Internet nickname -- but 23 percent of Kentuckians don't get broadband Internet. The new Super "I-Way" project aims to change that.

"We're talking about not just access but very importantly, we're talking about speed and capacity," Beshear said. "We need a system that is attractive to high-tech, knowledge based and information intensive businesses."

"I've called this in the past 'Silicon Holler,'" Rogers laughed, "and I think we can make that happen."

Eastern Kentucky has some heavy hitters in influential positions - Rogers is the U.S. House Appropriations Chairman, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers is from Manchester and Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo represents Prestonsburg.

"Things are starting to work that will give Kentuckians in the eastern part of the state hope for a brighter future," Stumbo (D), said.

The governor said areas of Kentucky, such as Louisville which already have high speed Internet, would not see any faster speeds under this plan. Supporters compared the "dark cable" network to a state built interstate highway, one which Internet service providers can access for customers which up until now -- have not had broadband.

"The dark cable that we're laying is a vehicle that people who are in the communications business will be able to utilize as they see fit in their business," Rogers said, "and communities along the trunk line will be able to tie into that system."

The high-speed Internet plan comes one year after the Kentucky House defeated a bill which would have deregulated Kentucky's telephone industry, relieving providers of their legal responsibility to service "land lines," thereby freeing up resources to build towers and a broadband system.

Beshear said AT&T, a principal supporter of that bill, would be one of the companies eligible to participate in the new project. Beshear said he can't guarantee a company will move to Kentucky because of the project, but he can guarantee that many companies won't even look at Kentucky until it gets completely online.

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