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New Initiatives Drive Rural Broadband Adoption in AL, KY, WI

August 27, 2015

For many states, broadband connectivity is becoming an increasingly important tool used to improve the economic well-being of residents, especially in rural areas. While some have paved the way for publicly funded municipal broadband providers, others, such as North Carolina and Tennessee, have filed suit with the Federal Communications Commission and joined the telecommunications industry in their opposition. Over the course of the summer, several states announced their own measures to improve broadband adoption as a means to support economic development and improve the quality of life in rural areas.

Recent research has explored the economic value of rural broadband adoption. Sponsored by the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP), a study released last year found that, between 2001 and 2010,  rural counties where more than 60 percent of households adopted broadband experienced higher income growth and smaller unemployment growth than those counties that did not. The study, Broadband׳s contribution to economic growth in rural areas: Moving towards a causal relationship, also finds that rural counties where fewer than 40 percent of households adopted broadband experienced lower business and employment growth. 

In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley issued an executive order establishing the Office of Broadband Development, which will assess broadband coverage and gaps in service across the state. The office will research grants on behalf of state agencies and local governments for the development of broadband in Alabama, in addition to collecting and sharing information with stakeholders, such as challenges, opportunities, resources, webinars, maps and public policies that enhance or hamper broadband deployment and usage.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order to create the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA) to manage the KentuckyWired open-access broadband network. Describing broadband as an essential service along the lines of electricity, water, and sewage, more than 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure will be built in the commonwealth over the next two to three years. The project is projected to cost approximately $324 million, consisting of $30 million in state bond funds and $23.5 million in Federal Funds. The remainder of the project, $270.9 million, will be funded with private investment.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which operates the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program, provides reimbursement for equipment and construction expenses incurred by telecommunications operators extending broadband to underserved areas in the state.  In FY 2014, the first year of the program, seven broadband expansion grants totaling $500,000 were awarded by the Public Service Commission, with another seven grants totaling $452,000 awarded in FY 2015. Wisconsin’s recently passed FY 2016-2017 biennial budget triples the total amount to be distributed each year from $500,000 to $1.5 million. Without the state’s assistance providers say they could not afford to extend broadband to Wisconsin’s sparsely populated areas, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 

Alabama, Kentucky, Wisconsinbroadband