The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many hard lessons and among them is the importance of ensuring families and businesses across Scott County have access to fast, reliable broadband. To ensure that our children are able to learn and to ultimately be successful in the 21st century workforce, every student, no matter where they live, needs to be connected. In order to bring broadband to the more rural parts of our county that don’t currently have broadband infrastructure, we must have a multi-prong approach to expanding broadband infrastructure. That includes efforts by our County government, the state legislature, and the state Public Service Commission.
Here at the local level, the County recently released a request for information (RFI) from broadband providers and other organizations to identify approaches to expand service into our rural areas. Our goal is to identify the barriers that are keeping providers from expanding service and to understand what County resources may be needed to help deploy service to areas that don’t have it. We expect the first responses to the RFI in the coming weeks and look forward to exploring all opportunities that are presented.
The General Assembly also has an opportunity during the ongoing legislative session to make a meaningful difference. Last year, two of our own Scott County legislators championed broadband legislation that will make a real difference. Representative Phillip Pratt championed legislation that established a broadband grant program for Kentucky and Representative Mark Hart sponsored a bill that would have created a tax credit to help providers expand service. This session, I encourage the members of the General Assembly to include funding in the budget for the grant program and to pass a broadband tax credit. These measures will help bring broadband to more of Scott County.
Another action by our state government that will help deploy broadband to rural areas involves the ongoing pole attachment rulemaking at the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC). Recently, I wrote a letter to the PSC encouraging them to break down the regulatory barriers that are inhibiting broadband deployment. One of the biggest barriers to rural expansion is the cost associated with replacing utility poles. The current PSC proceeding could fix this by ensuring fair and predictable pole replacement costs, helping to expedite broadband deployment in a much more cost-effective way.
All of these approaches taken together will allow us to make major leaps forward in broadband expansion. With another year of remote work, schooling, and daily life underway, the time is now to ensure Scott County and Kentucky are set up for success with essential broadband service.
Joe Pat Covington is the Scott County judge-executive