General Assembly Fourth Week February 18 - 22

Introduction

There were some big things that happened this week in the Legislature, but the biggest thing—in my opinion—was an email I received about broadband access. The Kentucky Wired Initiative is Kentucky’s effort to bring broadband access to rural Kentucky. The project has huge implications for economic development and rural prosperity, but the project is mired in cost overruns and complaints. Urban areas have access to high-speed internet while rural areas struggle. In 2013, The Center for Business and Economic Research noted that only 8% of Kentuckians have high-speed internet when compared to the U.S. average of 37%.

Kentucky Auditor Critical

Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon released a report critical of the Kentucky Wired project. The auditor projected that Kentucky taxpayers will be on the hook for 1.5 billion over the next 30 years. And costs are running 35% over the original estimate.

A 2018 annual report stated that 618 miles of fiber had been deployed, but the original project—forecast to be completed in August of 2018—was going to take at least an additional 18 months. A recent map showed the stages of completion of the project. Notice that most of Western Kentucky remains without Kentucky Wired access.

Kentucky Wired Project Updated as of January 9, 2019.

Kentucky Wired Project Updated as of January 9, 2019.

General Assembly Sentiments Negative

There was a “strong sentiment” among the General Assembly to kill the Kentucky Wired project. In response, on February, 21, 2019, the Chairman,Scott Brinkman, wrote a letter describing the decision to end the Kentucky Wired project as “catastrophic”. Rather than terminate the contract, Brinkman asked the General Assembly to create a fund of $110 million dollars.

Conclusion

Speaker Osborne introduced a bill authorizing $130 million in additional bonding capacity for the Kentucky Wired project. The House has yet to act on HB 509. Unless HB 509 passes, Kentucky’s broadband initiative will end. Brinkman’s letter lays out in a logical way, the repercussions of the General Assembly’s failure to act. Yet, another 110 million will be added to Kentucky’s debts in order to provide internet access in rural locations. Tough choices.

How to Reach Me

The number of bills introduced on the House floor and heard in committee will only increase in the days ahead. It is more important than ever that you stay engaged and communicate with me. You can follow bills from the Kentucky Legislature Home page (www.legislature.ky.gov) or share feedback through the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. You can e-mail me directly at rob.wiederstein@LRC.ky.gov. As always, it is my privilege to serve you!