Project will be key catalyst

Jared Arnett - Contributing Columnist

Soon, we’ll be able to travel at the speed of light, and we won’t even have to leave our office, home or school.

It’s not a riddle. Rather, it’s a 21st century mode of transportation. High-speed Internet will carry ideas, commerce and connections anywhere we want to go.

Access to broadband technology — a super-fast Internet that’s always on — is essential for businesses, schools and communities. Unconnected communities simply can’t compete in the new economy, because broadband is as essential to economic development as water and electricity were to generations past. Moreover, other states are improving their broadband every day, leaving Kentucky falling further and further behind.

As we prepared to launch KentuckyWired, a mother in Corbin wrote on SOAR’s Facebook page that broadband couldn’t get here fast enough, because she was tired of driving her kids to McDonald’s every night. She wasn’t taking them there for dinner. That was the only place in town with reliable Internet access, and her kids needed it for their homework. Another person wrote me to share that he would likely have to move away from his home eastern Kentucky, because slow Internet was hampering his video-editing business.

No more. The KentuckyWired broadband project will install 3,400 miles of fiber optic cable across the state beginning in eastern Kentucky, with speeds that will catapult the state to among the fastest in the country. Upon completion of the network, local Internet service providers and communities can build the final miles of fiber directly into our homes and businesses.

Fast, reliable Internet isn’t just about watching Netflix or updating Facebook. It opens the doors to enhanced education opportunities, better health care access and information-driven economic development.

The push for reliable, accessible and affordable high-speed broadband is a top action item that emerged from the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) initiative. That recommendation, along with the continuing loss of coal jobs, is the reason the project will begin in the SOAR region. KentuckyWired is on an aggressive three-year time frame for substantial completion.

For KentuckyWired to work, our communities and local providers must get ready for the project by preparing the “last mile,” or the Internet hookups from the broadband “highway” to individual homes and businesses. I encourage our community leaders to get on board now. In the coming months, communities can get information from the state about how to build out those essential “final miles”. Smart communities will start that work right away.

Thanks to our state, federal and private partners, now we won’t have to find opportunity away from home. Broadband will bring the world to the mountains and the mountains to the world.

With broadband, we can educate our kids here. We can create jobs here. We can improve health access here. And we can do it all here, in the homes we love, as long as we are connected through broadband.

Arnett is executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), a homegrown movement in eastern Kentucky that is building on the strengths of the region and shoring up its weaknesses. Through the wisdom, resources and energy of our people, together we will make historic change for the better — in health and wellness, job creation, workforce training, education and other quality-of-life factors.

Jared Arnett

Contributing Columnist

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