The Rural Utilities Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently named four Kentucky communities as the recipients of the competitive Community Connect grants. The federal grants, totaling nearly $1 million, will create vital broadband networks for rural communities that do not have high-speed Internet
service. The grants were awarded to the Berry, Columbus, Concord and Monterey communities, which are in Harrison, Hickman, Lewis and Owen counties, respectively.
"My administration is committed to full broadband deployment for every Kentucky community, and these grants support Kentucky's Prescription for Innovation to help ensure that no community is left behind."
- Gov. Ernie Fletcher
"These funds will provide a critical link between essential community facilities in areas where no broadband service currently exists," Agriculture Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner said. "The goal is to improve public safety and also enable residents to pursue educational opportunities."
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher said the Community Connect grants will give the communities access to the world of resources available on the Internet. He said, "My administration is committed to full broadband deployment for every Kentucky community, and these grants support Kentucky's Prescription for Innovation to help ensure that no community is left behind."
Kentucky's Prescription for Innovation is a comprehensive plan to accelerate technology growth, particularly in the areas of broadband deployment and technology literacy and usage. The initiative seeks to blanket Kentucky with broadband service by the end of 2007.
Upon the announcement of Kentucky’s successful Community Connect applications, Congressman Geoff Davis commented, "I am extremely pleased that Owen, Harrison and Lewis counties will be receiving these important grants to increase the proliferation of broadband technology in these rural communities. Expanding access to technology resources is critical to enhancing education and economic development. I will continue to work to ensure that all of our communities have access to advanced technology resources."
The Community Connect grants will be used to create a technology center equipped with 10 computer workstations that will enable residents to access high-speed Internet free of charge in each community. Moreover, the grants will provide free broadband access to critical community facilities such as fire, law enforcement and emergency response facilities.
ConnectKentucky, Kentucky’s technology-based economic development partnership, applied for the grants in partnership with various telecommunications providers. Other federal, state and local government officials and agencies supported the grant process, including Kentucky's congressional delegation, the Department of Commercialization and Innovation in the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet, Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), the Kentucky Dataseam Initiative and Kentucky Department for Workplace Investment in the Office of Employment and Training (OET).
As part of the application, three broadband service providers committed resources to the expansion of broadband in these communities: SouthEast Telephone in Berry, Monterey and surrounding areas; and Open World, Inc. and Heartland Communications Internet Services, Inc. for Concord, Columbus and surrounding areas.
Residents of these Kentucky communities understand how important broadband is to their future. Prior to the announcement of the Community Connect grants, Berry Mayor Donald Adams described the dire need for broadband in his community in an article in USA Today. “We're still clinging on,” Adams told the newspaper, “hoping the Internet will help us start something that will help our economy.” For Berry and the three other communities, assistance is now on the way.
ConnectKentucky reports that since 2004, statewide broadband availability and usage have increased by 45 percent and 46 percent respectively. An estimated 429,000 previously unserved households may now access broadband as private sector investment in telecommunications infrastructure has reached an unprecedented level in Kentucky. Currently, 87 percent of Kentucky homes can access broadband, on track to reach 100 percent availability in 2007. Home computer ownership has grown by 17 percent, and 116 counties are actively engaged in the eCommunity Leadership process to establish a nine sector technology growth plan for accelerating technology locally. In addition, the rate of Kentucky’s high-tech job growth is outpacing the national average.
About ConnectKentucky: ConnectKentucky is leading the way into a new economy for Kentuckians. As Kentucky’s technology-based economic development partnership, ConnectKentucky is a public-private alliance of leaders from private industry, government and education. By leveraging the latest in technology and networking, ConnectKentucky is ensuring Kentucky remains the place of choice to work, live and raise a family. For more information, visit www.connectkentucky.org.