There is growing support among local residents for a municipally owned broadband system in Oldham County.
Speaking before the Oldham County Fiscal Court Feb. 4, La Grange resident Larry Kiser got right to the point saying he was there to speak about a publicly owned broadband system that serves every household in the county.
“I think it’s way past time to act. This is not a new problem and county leadership has had plenty of time and options to rectify the situation,” Kiser said.
Much like how gas, water or electricity are treated as public utilities, municipal broadband runs in the same vein. In this case, instead of depending on telecom companies and internet service providers (ISP), cities and municipalities create a locally owned and operated internet network. Kiser said the benefits of creating a municipal network would be offering high-speed broadband that would retain net neutrality rules and guard the private data of users.
Municipal broadband systems are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. According to The Institute for Local Self Reliance, nearly 900 communities are served by some form of municipal network or by a cooperative.
According to BroadbandNow, a website that finds and compares ISPs, AT&T, Spectrum and EarthLink are the prominent internet providers in Oldham County, with a majority of areas only having access to AT&T or Spectrum.
However, households in some of the more rural areas of the county don’t have access to any internet providers or have slower internet speeds than other areas.
BroadbandNow says approximately 400 people in Oldham County don’t have access to any wired internet, but the accuracy of counts of people who lack internet access can be unreliable.
Kiser said franchise agreements with service providers have stifled competition in the county, allowing a provider to sit on an area and only cover the most densely populated areas.
A lack of competition amongst ISPs often allows providers to charge high rates. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, U.S. broadband customers pay some of the highest prices in the developed world.
“If there’s no risk of another provider coming in, what motivation is there to improve service or grow their footprint,” Kiser said.
During its Feb. 4 meeting, the fiscal court opened requests for qualifications for a broadband consultant to conduct an assessment, develop a preliminary design and provide estimated costs of the buildout of a “last mile” fiber optic infrastructure in the county.
Kiser, and other county citizens, represented one of the five companies that submitted documents to the fiscal court for consideration.
The other companies that submitted qualifying documents are Alabama-based Lit Communities, Colorado-based Magellan Advisors, Maryland-based Mission Broadband and The Solarity Group, which operates out of Lexington.
Last year, the fiscal court entered into an agreement with the state to purchase a 144-count bundle of “middle mile” fiber through Kentucky Wired, a state-run project that aims to construct over 3,000 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable in every county in the state. There are approximately 25 miles of fiber that would run through the county with 12 access points.
KentuckyWired is a “middle mile” project that connects government offices, universities, community colleges, state police posts, state parks and other government institutions to the global internet, the agency’s website states.
Judge-Executive David Voegele has previously said he wants to attract “final mile” providers to the county. Also called “last mile internet,” the “final mile” refers to the internet connection leading into homes and businesses, it’s the final stretch of internet connection. These are the providers an individual is purchasing internet service from.
Kiser told the fiscal court they shouldn’t consider any proposal that would stop short of ensuring 100 percent internet coverage in the county, and they should pass a resolution stating as much. He also asked the court to hold monthly evening meetings for a small committee to reject any bad ideas from the chosen consultant.
Voegele said he wouldn’t rule out a public broadband system but that he would want to learn more about what it would involve. Regardless, he said he was supportive of getting better service to the county.
“I want to assure everyone who doesn’t have adequate service in our county that we’re very aware of this,” Voegele said. “We’re interested in moving forward and trying to bring high-speed service to everyone at the lowest possible rate.”
The Oldham County Fiscal Court next meets Feb. 18 at 2 p.m.