The ability to have access to broadband, or Internet access, is an economic, educational and quality of life issue, Scott County Judge-Executive Joe Pat Covington told a group of business leaders last week.
“It’s a necessity,” he said.
That’s why he is pushing forward with a project that could eventually cost millions and millions of dollars.
“It’s not an inexpensive venture,” Covington said.
Last month, the Scott County Fiscal Court commissioned GEO Partners to conduct a feasibility study in the county. GEO Partners conducted a “speed” test to determine where Internet access is strongest and where it is weak. The study found the strongest areas for broadband access was with Georgetown and Stamping Ground, U.S. 25 from Moonlake Estates to Mallard Point and Longview and Homestead subdivsions on Frankfort Pike.
But there were many areas, especially in the northwestern part of the county where broadband coverage was weak or nonexistent.
“We conducted some 3600 speed tests, which is about 12-13 percent of the county. If you can get 10 percent of an area, you’re a hero. Somehow Judge Covington surpassed that,” said Glen Fishbine, GEO Partners chief technology officer. “That gives us a very good picture of the state of broadband in the county.
“There are areas where there is strong broadband coverage such as Georgetown, and north of the Toyota plant. We didn’t count those. We focused on the areas that were weakest.”
There are several kinds of connections including wireless and fiber, with wireless the least expensive option, Fishbine said. But the county’s terrain will likely require fiber — or the installation of towers — a necessity for some of the county.
“Wireless does not like hills or trees,” Fishbine said with a laugh. “And while your county may be beautiful, the terrain makes broadband coverage a challenge.”
Actually, GEO Partners conducted 3,891 speed tests were conducted in the county, including 3,147 unique locations, Covington said.
GEO Partners provided six models for the county to consider, with the cost increasing based on the amount of homes in the coverage area and the need for fiber. The models range from $2 million for selected areas to $49 million for 100 percent coverage.
The fiscal court is expecting to hire a firm soon that will help it develop a plan for financing, including what federal grants may be available and identifying potential financial partners. The county also hopes to use some of its CARES Act funds for the project, and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr introduced a bill last week that will allow local governments to do just that.
“Rural communities need to have broadband access they can depend on, especially during the pandemic when so many Kentuckians are working and learning remotely,” Barr said. “In Congress, I have made rural broadband access a priority, and this legislation will only further our mission of delivering dependable broadband Internet to more Kentuckians and Americans living in rural America.”
Covington praised GEO Partners and the the data provided is crucial to developing a plan for expanding broadband coverage in Scott County.
“We have real data now,” he said. “We have numerous solutions before us. I don’t have a real timetable, but this is an issue I believe is very important for our future.”
The county hopes to eventually develop a public-private partnership with a broadband company, with some of the originally costs of installation repaid to the county through usage fees, Covington said.
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.