Rural broadband is on its way to Jessamine County

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, January 5, 2023

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The Jessamine County Fiscal Court supports a $1.1 million investment toward rural broadband, according to Judge-Executive David West. But first, the fiscal court needs a signed contract with the company of its choice before construction can begin.

$8 million of Jessamine County’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds have been invested into treasury bills. When the Journal asked how Judge West and the court may allocate the return of its treasury bills, he mentioned funding rural broadband. 

“We feel like with the ARPA money, it doesn’t necessarily cost any of our citizens any money, and I can’t think of a better use than bringing connectivity to the entire county,” Judge West said.

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With the increase of Americans working from home, zooming into classes, and the need for telehealth resources, broadband infrastructure is an approved use of ARPA funds.

There are a few federal programs that, over the past few years, have started to provide broadband to homes all over rural America, including Kentucky. Windstream has already provided broadband to some neighborhoods in Jessamine County with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. These funds are not administered to local governments and are entirely separate from ARPA.

After starting a project to bring high-speed broadband to rural Fayette County, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) administration expanded the program to assist rural areas of its six contiguous counties. 

This assistance was non-financial. However, LFUCG provided nearby counties with its employees, including Terry Barne, the project manager for rural broadband in Jessamine County.

With Barne’s expertise, Jessamine County sent out a request for information (RFI) to construction companies. RFIs ask companies to send back information drafts on what construction plans may look like and provide a possible price tag for the project.

“My role was to coordinate meetings with those companies that responded to [the RFI] and facilitate those meetings. And once we finished that RFI process, we wrote an RFP,” Barne said. 

An RFP is a request for proposal soliciting bids from companies interested in the project. 

Judge West said the court boiled its option down to three companies who responded to its RFP with bids and information. The only one who responded with a definitive price for the county’s contribution was Spectrum at $1,003,00. 

Altogether, this was an 18-month process, according to Judge West.

Although the fiscal court has gotten a price from Spectrum, they still need a broadband provider to sign a contract with the county to get started. It may be a different provider. Judge West says he hopes to have a contract signed within three months.

The chosen provider would be responsible for constructing the necessary infrastructure for the county and will offer a gig of service to 2,545 unserved homes in the rural areas of the county. It would take the provider at least three years to complete the project. However, this wouldn’t prevent other companies from independently providing broadband in the county.