Logging on for school, work is becoming harder for some Kentuckians
"If it rains it goes out. If more than a few people are on it, it runs really slows and bogs down. We can't watch videos. Even on a good day, I can't stream Netflix or Hulu or any kind of streaming service."
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - When Ashley Barnes moved her family to Harrodsburg in April, she thought they were getting everything they wanted. There was room for her son to run, a barn, and a big office for her home business.
“We have almost six acres and it’s kind of a shotgun, it goes all the way back. That’s all open fields. My husband trades and trains horses,” notes Barnes. “I honestly never even thought about internet until I started trying to get it set up. I called around and I kind of got the run around from a lot of people.”
Barnes signed up with satellite service, but for a woman who runs her own international business, the internet speed is admittedly not great.
“If it rains it goes out. If more than a few people are on it it runs really slows and bogs down. We can’t watch videos. Even on a good day, I can’t stream Netflix or Hulu or any kind of streaming service,” she says. “There are mornings where me not realizing, ‘hey, we’re towards the end of our billing cycle’ and I can’t get into my documents and my spreadsheets to do my work because we’re too close and we’ve now almost used our data allotment.”
Barnes’s neighborhood is not alone in its broadband access aches and pains.
“Even in the urban areas there are citizens in Lexington, in Louisville, in Northern Kentucky that don’t have access to broadband,” remarks Jamie Link. Link helps operate the “middle mile” of internet connectivity for the Kentucky Communications Network Authority’s KentuckyWired project. It is the interstate fiber-optic highway that will soon stretch more than 3,300 miles across the state. The project is expected to be complete late this year.
“We are working as quickly as we can to get this middle mile completed so that existing local ISPs and providers can go ahead and start working with Kentucky Wired to tap into our broadband backbone,” says Link.
Digital access experts say limited broadband could exacerbate all of the equity issues we already face.
“We see the stories of students having to go sit in parking lots in order to access wifi at restaurants and libraries and other facilities across the state,” says Link.
WKYT reached out to two of the largest internet providers in the state, MetroNet and Charter Communications. MetroNet said it is on track to double internet capacity within the next six months. Charter partnered with the Kentucky Farm Bureau this year to create a grant program to get broadband access in rural areas. Each company’s full response is below.
As demands for faster connections and more bandwidth have increased due to an influx of customers working from home and students learning online, MetroNet’s 100% fiber-optic network is rising to the challenge in these critical times.
MetroNet is following CDC guidelines and enhancing sanitization practices while continuing to build and install fiber optic internet in their markets. Our work in markets across the country falls under the communications sector and is deemed essential to continue, even during critical times. In the last six months, our construction has expanded to less populated communities in central Kentucky, such as Midway, Nicholasville, Richmond, and Versailles to ensure that reliable internet is available when communities need it most. We’re looking to expand our reach in central Kentucky surrounding the Lexington area.
Since the break of the global health crisis in March, MetroNet has connected a record number of customers to our reliable internet so that customers can work and learn from home. As household bandwidth requirements increase sharply to meet working and schooling from home needs, MetroNet’s network is more than capable of meeting demands. At the peak of stay at home orders earlier this year, collective internet has climbed 31%. In that same timeframe, despite the increased demand, only 62% of our network’s capacity had been required. MetroNet is also on pace to double its internet capacity within the next six months, an initiative that was underway prior to the increased demand caused by the pandemic remote work requirements.
MetroNet is committed to keeping Kentucky residents connected even if they don’t have reliable internet access at their home. Earlier this year the company set up an open-access Wi-Fi hotspot at their retail storefront at 130 W. Tiverton Way. The hotspot will operate 24 hours a day for short-term use by anyone in urgent need of internet access. The service is available to anyone, including non-MetroNet customers, by parking near the location. MetroNet has always been committed to delivering fast, reliable internet to customers, with no data caps, no long-term contracts, and local customer service, and will continue to support our customers when they need our service the most.
Additional information and resources can be found at https://www.metronetinc.com/covid19/.
“Charter has invested to improve and expand services so that more residents have access to fast, reliable broadband, including building to 32,000 new homes and businesses in Kentucky in 2019. Over the last two years, Charter has expanded its network to provide broadband to over 1.5 million homes and businesses in the U.S., about a third of which were in rural areas.”
“Charter’s investment of nearly $40 billion in infrastructure and technology over the last five years is just one of the ways we’ve demonstrated our long-term commitment to helping to close the digital divide. In addition to expanding our network, we’ve increased access to high speed broadband through Spectrum Internet Assist, our industry-leading, low-cost broadband product available to eligible low-income students and seniors.”
“We also partnered with numerous organizations, including the Kentucky Farm Bureau, to pass state legislation in 2020 to create a grant program to help provide broadband access in unserved and rural areas. We look forward to working with legislative leaders and the Governor in 2021 to fund a multi-year program that will provide meaningful opportunities for private sector broadband investment. Additionally, as the Kentucky Public Service Commission continues to review its rules for access to utility poles and infrastructure, it should consider ways to streamline the process and address unnecessary costs and delays that can thwart efforts to expand broadband deployment in rural areas. In many parts of the country, pole attachment processes can result in significant delay and expense, accounting for as much as 35% of total construction costs.”
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