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West Kentucky Co-op going after funds to expand broadband
Marty Clift, Regulatory Manager of West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative, Corp., gave local leaders a peek into what his company is doing to access federal stimulus money for broadband development in West Kentucky and portions of West Tennessee.

Clift told Purchase Area Development District members that his co-op would be going after $250 million to install fiber optic cable throughout the region.

The goal? Fiber to the home. Unlimited bandwidth capability throughout the region. Clift said that the US lags behind the rest of the first world in broadband capability. Japan, South Korea, the UK and Scandinavian countries all do a better job of connecting customers. Surprisingly, Kentucky has a good handle on identifying needs through Connect Kentucky

According to Connect Kentucky’s availability map shown here, green is for unserved areas, bright pink for areas with a single platform and pale pink for areas with multiple platforms. Blue is for access to mobile wireless. East and West Kentucky share similar color ranges.

Clift’s group has hired the PADD to help them apply for a grant from Rural Utilities Services, (RUS) an agency of the Department of Agriculture. West Kentucky Telephone has a relationship with RUS and according to Clift, “relies heavily on them.” RUS has $2.5 billion in funds to distribute nationwide. Another federal agency also has money from the package. The National Telecommunication Information Agency (NTIA) will have $4.7 billion.

Originally, the feds wanted to get money out quickly and have projects “shovel ready” by this May or June 09. That didn’t work out when the FCC asked for comments and got thousands. Presently, they are shifting through ideas to write their regs. Grants may be delayed to December 09.

West Ky Telephone will not be including several Purchase counties and communities in their application. McCracken County is served by Comcast, Ballard County has their own telephone co-op and Murray in Calloway has service from their municipal utilities company. The grant will include Graves, Marshall, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton and Hickman Counties in Kentucky and Henry, Obion and Weakley in Tennessee. The company seeks to serve a population of 200,000 in 95,000 households.

The goal of West Kentucky Telephone is to provide access to both unserved and underserved areas; to provide broadband awareness and education in schools, libraries, colleges, and medical facilities for access by low income, unemployed and senior citizens.

When asked, Clift wouldn’t estimate what the service would cost homeowners. He emphasized that penetration of the market would be key to making the project a success. Their goal is 30,000 new broadband/TV/telephone customers.

If the grant is awarded, the co-op plans to hire 160 new employees in multiple areas – sales, customer service, installation, engineering and to bring on 228 contract employees to construct and lay the fiber. Clift foresees new business, new warehousing and a new training facility if his company is successful.

Some in the room expressed doubt that West Kentucky Co-Op will be successful in getting the whole 250 million dollars. Considering the number of grant applications that will be going to Washington (“a dog race”) the Co-OP may not get all it has asked for. But it won’t be for lack of effort.

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