Edmonson Only One of Two Counties In KY Without Current Agreement For State Funded Project
Darren Doyle, story and photos:
A large crowd was on hand at the Edmonson County Community Center last night at a public meeting regarding the future of the KentuckyWired Project in Edmonson County. The meeting was organized by Edmonson County Judge Executive Wil Cannon.
County residents have been plagued with sub-par internet service for years but limited options and poor infrastructure continue to hinder growth, despite increasing demands for home and business internet usage.
The KentuckyWired Project is an open-access broadband network that is state funded and "focused on meeting current needs for government locations, but more importantly, positioning Kentucky to be a national leader in high-capacity Internet service connections which promote economic development, enhance education and research capabilities, ensure public safety, improve healthcare delivery, and augment connectivity for libraries and communities," according to a statement from KentuckyWired website.
Jim Askins, Government and Resident Relations Field Representative for the KentuckyWired Project presented a slideshow and discussed the project and how vital broadband was to all of Kentucky, specifically rural areas like Edmonson County. He went into detail as to how uploading and downloading content is becoming a way of life for work, play, and education.
South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative, or SCRTC, is the contractor for installing the new fiber optic lines that will be used for Brownsville and Edmonson County governmental offices. While the offices are the only ones to have immediate access to these lines, the lines will be accessible to third party internet service providers (Windstream, Mediacom, etc.) so they can expand and improve their own networks further into Edmonson County.
In order for SCRTC to complete the project in Brownsville, they must first sign a contract with the City of Brownsville, which has yet to happen. According to Judge Executive Wil Cannon, Edmonson County is only one of two remaining counties out of 120 in Kentucky that has not reached an agreement in the KentuckyWired project.
"Edmonson County government doesn't have anything to do with this," Judge Cannon said at the meeting. "City governments have to sign these agreements. The City of Brownsville has to have an agreement with the contractor to bring it in. And right now, the hold up has got to do with franchise taxes and bonding issues. I'm not sure where they're at in their negotiations, and that could've changed since I was given this information, but as of, I believe it was last Friday, I was told that as far as the South Central Telephone folks go, they're at $5,000 a year franchise or 5%, whichever is greater."
Cannon also said that SCRTC is merely the contractor and has no guarantee they'll ever get any customers should they reach an agreement, complete the construction, AND provide service.
"They're not going to sign an agreement where they pay $5000 a year in a franchise tax. They'd probably do a percentage, that's what I was told, but that's not the county government's business."
Brownsville City Councilman Greg Nugent was present at the meeting and he addressed the crowd.
"Nobody wants this anymore than we do, I want you to understand that," he said. "I'd like to have faster internet, I'd like to have all these things that everybody else wants. The problem is, we're not asking South Central to do anything we don't ask every provider that comes into our city. When somebody does a construction project through our city, they have to have a construction bond, and we expect them to have a certain amount to protect us if they do something wrong, I hope you understand that. Our city budget is very small. If they come through--any construction company--and their business failed halfway through the construction and they have our streets tore up, or whatever it may be, and we don't have a bond that says it would be taken care of, it would bankrupt our city."
Councilman Nugent also said Windstream and Mediacom pay the same franchise fee that they are asking SCRTC to pay and are not trying to hold up any project.
"I think the City of Brownsville and the city commissioners are getting beat up here," he said. "So I want you to understand, we're not doing anything that we wouldn't ask anybody that comes through. We're not picking on South Central. So, I think part of that issue should be, why is South Central not doing what we ask?"
We spoke with SCRTC General Manager Jeff Eaton, who said what the City of Brownsville is asking them to do is unfair and that Brownsville is the only city in the area in which is requiring them to pay such a hefty franchise tax.
"We're very familiar with franchises and bonds," said Eaton. "But there's too many requirements here. They told us if we didn't service their city they weren't interested in KentuckyWired. We don't have these issues with Glasgow, with Munfordville, with Smiths Grove. We had to come through Smiths Grove in order to get into Edmonson County on the 31W-101 side, and Smiths Grove was thrilled to have us come through."
Eaton also said that their company has enough insurance to cover the types of issues the city has discussed, but that negotiations were currently in the hands of the attorneys.
"They've got all sorts of stipulations and penalties in a contract they want us to sign, and we don't have to do that with any other city. You'd think we were coming through Louisville. We're a cooperative and it's not fair for us to spend member-owned money for something that doesn't guarantee customers. We know Edmonson County is full of good people and we want to get this done, but there's probably only two miles of construction for this project in the city limits of Brownsville, the rest is in the county."
Eaton said while both SCRTC and the City of Brownsville have not yet reached an agreement, he says they are not at an impasse yet.
"No, I don't think so. I haven't heard from our attorney in a while, but we can still work something out," he said. "I'll say this, though, I'm not sure what else we can do on our end unless we just give in and I just don't think that's fair."
Neither Judge Cannon nor Eaton knew the exact timetable on when and if Edmonson County could be left out of the program; however, contractors are currently working in the surrounding area and are ready to make the turn into Edmonson County.
"We talk with the state quite a bit," said Eaton. "If this falls through with the city, then it's likely that Edmonson County and Brownsville will be left out of the KentuckyWired project."
Several residents asked questions and made comments, all of which either related to wanting better internet service or where in favor of doing whatever was necessary for the project to come through, locally.
Even if the project comes through, better service opportunities for the remainder of the county are not going to happen anytime soon; however, they won't happen at all if the project doesn't make its way into Brownsville.