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Rural KY Communities Pushing Greater Broadband Access

October 1, 2010

WHITESBURG, Ky. - Across the nation, community groups are calling for the Federal Communications Commission to protect broadband so that rural and low-income households have affordable access. According to Mimi Pickering, a filmmaker for Appalshop, an arts and education center in Eastern Kentucky, too many Kentuckians are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and it is jeopardizing their success in education and business.

The unregulated, market-driven approach to providing broadband is not working, Pickering says.

"The phrase 'information highway' is not a cliche. Broadband should really be a basic utility. And it has got to be not only available for people, but also affordable."

Tom Fern, Kentucky state director for Rural Development for the USDA, believes broadband services are as vital to a community's infrastructure as roads, water and sewer lines. Fern notes that Kentucky is getting millions in stimulus funds to expand broadband in rural parts of the state: Ten telecommunications companies were awarded more than $300 million for broadband projects.

"In the rural areas there are some we call "the last mile" that do not have any access to broadband. In some areas they're still on the dial-up, and in others they just do not have the most high-tech, fiber-optic service to their communities."

Fern says greater access to broadband Internet will provide global business opportunities, foster distance learning in education, help first-responders and improve rural health care. And that's not all, he says.

"The investment into broadband is already having an impact in putting many Americans back to work. Nationwide, we expect to create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and other sectors."

Only 54 percent of Kentucky households have access to high-speed Internet at home; shave off another 5 percent for rural dwellers. Pickering says many cash-strapped residents rely on Internet services at public libraries, but budget cuts have forced many libraries to reduce their operating hours.


Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY