CALLOWAY COUNTY – Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes is asking local residents to send letters of support for a grant proposal to provide high-speed internet in the northeastern part of the county.
Imes said he sent letters to about 300 county residents who had previously contacted his office about expanding internet service to their area. He is requesting that any comments be sent by next Friday, Oct. 15.
“You are receiving this letter because of your support for expanding high-speed internet that you expressed last year when you contacted my office,” the letter reads. “Since that time, the Kentucky legislature has allocated $250 million in COVID relief funds for a grant program to expand high-speed broadband into underserved and unserved rural areas. West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications (WK&T) is working in cooperation with the Calloway County Fiscal Court to apply for a grant that, if successful, would expand service into your neighborhood.”
The letter goes on to explain that one of the key elements state officials consider in awarding grants is community support, which is why Imes is asking residents to send the county an email or letter detailing why reliable internet is important to them and their families. Imes told the Ledger & Times that county officials are planning on writing letters in support of the project as well, but he wants to hear from the public so he can pass those comments along to the state with the grant application. The more personal the comments are, the better, so form letters are discouraged, he said.
“I want to stress to people that I’d like for them to put their letter in their own words,” Imes said. “We get emails so often (that all read exactly the same). I think real-life experiences (are important) so people can tell where they are and what’s going on in the world and how this affects them, whether it’s medical needs or their kids are going to school or they’re trying to grow a business or whatever it is.”
The letter to residents also listed other possible needs like working from home, paying bills, communicating with friends and relatives, social media, monitoring emergency service agencies, accessing entertainment platforms and improving agriculture operations.
There are a couple of areas county government plans to focus on overall, with the first being those who have no access to good internet service at all. Those residents are primarily in northeastern Calloway County and are considered “unserved.” Another part of the county is considered “underserved” and makes up what county officials call “the donut” because the area forms a circular band around Murray when looking at a county map.
“At this time, this (letter-writing campaign) is for the unserved – the northeast portion of the county,” Imes said. “The donut around Murray will be another grant application separate and apart from this one. This is just trying to get federal or state money into the system and then we will use some of our ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) money to match and keep it all going.”
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Imes’ office at 201 S. Fourth St., Murray, KY 42071. Residents are asked to send their comments by Oct. 15, and any questions can be directed to 270-753-2920.
Imes said WK&T, which is based in Mayfield, was the only company that expressed interest after his office put out a request for proposals for developing the county’s internet infrastructure about a year-and-a-half ago. Two months ago, the Calloway County Fiscal Court unanimously voted to enter into an agreement with WK&T to bring reliable, fiber-fast internet to all unserved and underserved residents in the county, while also providing free services to all the Calloway County Fire-Rescue stations within the cooperative’s existing and future footprint in the county. The contract states that by expanding its network to the fire stations, WK&T will also make the fiber-to-the-premises, broadband internet access service available to residents and businesses located in underserved areas of the county.
According to Karen Jackson-Furman, chief operating officer for WK&T, the first phase of the build will pass an estimated 4,274 homes and businesses with a 100% fiber network and cover 236 road miles.
The contract says WK&T will use “its best efforts” to obtain an additional $4.35 million in grants in order to extend the broadband network to the northeastern part of Calloway County. If the company has not been able to obtain that additional money through grants after three years, then WK&T and the county would each contribute $2.175 million to finance the rest of the expansion. The second phase of the project will pass an estimated 1,026 homes and businesses and will cover approximately 89 road miles of fiber.