Friday, August 15, 2008

Here's how ConnectKentucky got broadband for most of the state, especially its rural areas

We've written before about the effectiveness of ConnectKentucky in improving broadband coverage in the state, from 60 percent in 2004 to 95 percent today, and it has received national notice. But when The Wall Street Journal publishes 1,300 words about it, it's worth a few excerpts.

Ann Carrns writes that the nonprofit group, "funded 90 percent by the state and 10 percent by private businesses and foundations, show how public-private partnerships, as well as a willingness by local governments to work with less-established telecommunications providers, can drive increased access to high-speed Internet service and spur economic development."

Here's how it worked: "Its first step was to persuade about 80 broadband providers ... to share information about broadband penetration. ConnectKentucky created interactive maps that showed broadband coverage along with population density, allowing providers to spot gaps in service in areas where there was likely demand. That helped providers identify areas where it made economic sense to expand," Carrns writes. ConnectKentucky "organized committees of volunteers from local governments, schools and businesses in each of the state's 120 counties to identify what benefits broadband service would bring to the community and to explain those benefits to the public. Regional coordinators for ConnectKentucky helped local governments establish their own Web sites and draft requests for proposals from broadband providers."

ConnectKentucky says a survey found that the share of state households using broadband rose to 44 percent in September 2007 from 24 percent three years earlier, and estimated that without its efforts, only 37 percent would have had broadband. "Based on a formula developed at the Brookings Institution to measure the economic benefits of broadband service, ConnectKentucky estimates its efforts have resulted in about 63,000 new or retained jobs. In particular, the group's analysis of federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Kentucky experienced a 3.1 percent increase in information-technology jobs over the two years ending in December 2006, compared with growth of 0.1 percent nationally."

The first word in ConnectKentucky's name has two meanings. Its ultimate goal is universal connection to broadband, but its key is connecting providers with places that need service. When big telephone companies wanted a lot of money to extend service to Pendleton County (Encarta map), in the hills along the Licking and Ohio rivers southeast of Cincinnati, ConnectKentucky found a low-cost alternative: A wireless system using county water towers and private property. The system has made working at home a growing trend. "Every day somebody decides to start working at home," said County Judge-Executive Henry Bertram, estimating that about 100 of the county's 200 broadband subscribers are doing so. (Read more)

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