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Building a "Super I Way"

PHOTO:  Kentucky leaders say high-speed, high-capacity broadband is the path to increasing opportunities in rural parts of the state. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: Kentucky leaders say high-speed, high-capacity broadband is the path to increasing opportunities in rural parts of the state. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
January 29, 2014

HAZARD, Ky. - Educators say bringing high-speed, high-capacity broadband Internet to rural parts of the state is "critically important" to improving opportunities for students and the region as a whole.

Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., have promised to build a "Super I way" into eastern Kentucky.

Ella Strong, who teaches at Hazard Community and Technical College, said not having that technology is a hassle for her students "because they don't have it at home. They either have low-speed DSL or dial-up or nothing. We have several students that take online classes and they don't even have access at home, they come on campus to do their course work for their online classes."

Beshear and Rogers have announced a plan to extend urban-level fiber cable into underserved areas of the state, beginning with eastern Kentucky. They say the project will be supported by $60 million in state bonds, with another $40 million coming from federal and private sources.

Saying the region is "not even in the ball game" right now, Rogers compared the project to what building the interstate highway system was to the nation a half century ago.

"No need for barges, no need for superhighways, no need for trucks or railroads or airplanes," he said. "It's done by cable."

Rogers said delivering high-speed, high-capacity broadband will eliminate the region's disadvantage of isolation. Beshear said it will improve economic development, health care and education.

Strong, who is dean of distance learning at Hazard Community and Technical College, agreed.

"It will allow more people in our region to be able to work from home because they would have that dedicated bandwidth to be able to do some of these tele-jobs right from their own home," she said.

Beshear said it could take two to three years to build the nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure needed in the region. Strong said if the promise is fulfilled it would help remove the region's geographical and financial barriers.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY