MURRAY – Calloway County takes one step closer to providing high-speed Internet service to unserved and underserved residents.
Reliable internet service is currently available to anyone living within Murray’s city limits, and many neighborhoods and single-family homes within the county’s borders can get it as well, but Executive Judge Kenny Imes has stated that no company provides broadband broadband service to an area surrounding Murray. Because Murray is in the center, he calls the underserved area the “donut.” Imes has made addressing this issue a big part of their agenda since taking office in the fall of 2018, and the county has been in talks with Mayfield-based West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications (WK&T) for months.
At a special meeting last Thursday, the Calloway County Tax Court unanimously voted to strike a deal with WK&T to provide reliable and fast internet access to all of the county’s unserved and underserved residents, while by providing free services to all residents of Calloway. County fire stations in the co-op’s current and future footprint in the county. The contract states that by expanding its network to fire stations, WK&T will also make high-speed fiber-optic internet access service to premises available to residents and businesses in underserved areas of the county. The fiber-optic network to the site offers synchronous speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, and the speed and quality of service are always the same for downloads and downloads, according to WK&T. The company also said that fiber-to-the-premises service is faster and more reliable than any other type of broadband service.
“We are delighted to partner with Calloway County to equip their fire stations with high-speed fiber internet access and to provide underserved residents and businesses with access to the technology they desperately need,” said WK&T CEO Trevor Bonnstetter said in a press release. “Reliable, fiber Internet is a life-changing resource. We look forward to bringing it to more of Calloway County. “
“Being able to partner with a local and trusted provider like WK&T to bring reliable, underground, in-home and high-speed fiber internet services to rural Calloway County is a win for everyone,” said said Imes. “Plus, knowing that our volunteer firefighters have free access to this invaluable resource when they need it is a comfort. By signing this agreement, the Tax Court will be able to seek federal and state funding sources to provide additional services to residents and business owners who had never had access or very limited service to the internet by fiber before. “
By signing the contract, the county agreed to pay WK&T $ 6.2 million as a down payment to finance the expansion of the company’s network and to purchase fiber-optic Internet service to the premises for the residents. fire stations for the next 10 years. WK&T will also contribute $ 6.2 million to the first phase of the project. When the first phase of the project is complete, all county residents and businesses outside of Murray are expected to have access to the service, with the exception of those located in the northeastern part of the county.
According to Karen Jackson-Furman, COO of WK&T, the first phase of construction will pass through approximately 4,274 homes and businesses with a 100% fiber network and cover 236 kilometers of road.
“The project will provide approximately 4,274 residents and businesses in Calloway County outside of Murray, Ky., With access to WK & T’s high-speed fiber-optic internet service, except for those living in the northern part. -est of the county, “Jackson-Furman said in a press release. “WK&T will pursue future grant opportunities to extend the service to this part of the county in a second phase of the project.”
The contract says WK&T will use “its best efforts” to secure an additional $ 4.35 million in grants to expand the broadband network to the northeastern part of Calloway County. If the company wasn’t able to get that extra money from grants after three years, WK&T and the county would each contribute $ 2.175 million to fund the remainder of the expansion. The second phase of the project will pass through approximately 1,026 households and businesses and will cover approximately 89 road miles of fiber.
During the meeting, Bonnstetter said he believed WK&T would be able to get grants to complete work in the northeast area, but if the company started working in that area before getting it. one, it would kill the prospect of a subsidy paying for the project. He said WK&T had historically been successful in securing grants and did not think it would take three years, but that a time frame needed to be stated in the contract.
“If for some reason we can’t get state or federal (funds), we come back to the table and work in that area,” Bonnstetter said.
Bonnstetter said that based on WK & T’s experience, the company does not believe a grant proposal for the so-called “donut” area surrounding Murray would be successful, which is why the company’s plan is to do so. of this area the first phase of the project. The county has yet to decide exactly how it will pay its share of $ 6.2 million, but magistrates could choose to use funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) or other state grants or federal if they could be guaranteed.
“With the money from ARPA and the $ 300 million approved by the state legislature (for broadband access) and infrastructure in Congress, surely (there are multiple sources) for the grants and things we can ask for, so it won’t be on the Calloway County taxpayer’s back, ”Imes said at the meeting.
In order to fulfill the contract, the county will need to certify that it can meet its obligation of $ 6.2 million by December 31 of this year. If he is unable to certify by then that he has sufficient funds to make the payments, the deal would be null and void, the contract says.
During a public comment portion of the meeting, Sandy and Paul Sasso told magistrates that high-speed internet access is badly needed where they live. Sandy said that after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was very grateful to be retired and no longer teaching as it would have been impossible to do her work on Zoom effectively. She said two bars were the best they could get on a Verizon hotspot, even with a tower six miles apart, and she also said they had neighbors with children who must have been out of school during the pandemic, and it was very difficult for them to work from home. She added that she and Paul have health issues and would like to take advantage of telehealth conferences with their doctors, but it’s just not a viable option for them at this time.
Sheila Phillips also spoke up, saying her husband couldn’t bring his work home due to unreliable internet in their area.
Imes said the move will be very important to the local economy, especially given any outside companies that might want to locate here. He compared the need for reliable internet access to the need residents had for other public services that we now take for granted.
“(This will also help) property values,” Imes said. “Can you imagine going out now and trying to buy a house that didn’t have electricity or a septic system?” “
Imes added that the deal was not intended to subsidize a specific group of county residents, but was necessary for all residents and businesses in the county to be on an equal footing.
Like many other products currently having supply chain issues, Bonstetter said it was difficult to get fiber right now, so it would be best if the project could get started as soon as possible. He said all residents included in the coverage area would have access to WK & T’s full service, including phone lines and other products.