High-speed network project runs into delays


By Bruce Schreiner - Associated Press



FRANKFORT (AP) — KentuckyWired hit a speed bump when the planned fiber optic network meant to spread high-speed internet throughout the state became entangled in longer-than-expected efforts to gain access to utility poles, lawmakers were told Monday.

As a result, completion of the project’s initial phases could be delayed by 10 to 12 months, said Chris Moore, executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority, which oversees and maintains the KentuckyWired project.

Now the target date for completing those first phases is the third quarter of 2017, he said.

The entire project could be wrapped up by the first quarter of 2019 — about four to eight months later than anticipated, Moore said.

The slowdown in the initial phases drew concern as a Kentucky legislative panel received an update on the vast project’s progress.

“Now why would it take that long?” said Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond.

Moore said that 85 percent of the fiber optic cables will be attached to utility poles, mostly in rural areas. The rest of the cables will be placed underground, mainly in urban areas. Project managers had to obtain agreements from owners of the poles, he said.

“We ran into delays in getting pole attachment agreements with two of the largest pole owners in the commonwealth,” Moore said.

Those agreements are now in hand, he said. But another potential slowdown has been obtaining easements from private landowners, he said. Potential cost overruns are “yet to be fully developed,” but project managers are working to minimize any additional costs, he said.

KentuckyWired is one of the signature initiatives of the Saving Our Appalachian Region group, founded by Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

Last year, a group of private companies borrowed more than $270 million to begin constructing the network. The state provided $30 million in bonds, which Moore said is being used to purchase materials to build the fiber network.

As part of the funding plan, Kentucky government officials promised to pay about $28 million a year for the Internet service to help with the debt service.

Due to the delays in getting the network started, however, KentuckyWired won’t generate revenues in the current fiscal year, Moore told lawmakers. And in the fiscal year that begins next July, the network is expected to muster only $3.5 million to $5 million in revenue, he said.

Afterward, Moore said the goal is to ramp up those revenues in coming years.

“We’re focusing on getting the construction completed in the most cost-efficient manner and as quickly as possible,” he told reporters.

Moore also reported signs of progress during his presentation to lawmakers. Managers have purchased or ordered about 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable and are working to finalize remaining pole attachment agreements, mostly in western and south-central Kentucky, he said.

An agreement with Cincinnati Bell to partner on construction costs in northern Kentucky will save about $3 million in project costs, he said. A letter of intent has been reached with East Kentucky Network on broadband network construction in the state’s Appalachian region, he said.

By Bruce Schreiner

Associated Press

comments powered by Disqus