KY Wired executive argues for county approval to expand its fiber network

Phillip K. Brown, executive director of Kentucky Wired, gestures to a map of planned network connections, including one for Nelson County that requires the approval of a franchise agreement. Nelson Fiscal Court discussed the project last fall, but have yet to approve a franchise agreement. Without the agreement, Kentucky Wired cannot connect its fiber optic lines in Washington and Marion counties.


Nelson County Gazettte / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 — Nelson Fiscal Court’s regular meeting Tuesday was dominated by a discussion of the Kentucky Wired initiative led by its executive director, Phillip K. Brown.

Brown fielded dozens of questions from the court and audience about Kentucky Wired, a public-private partnership launched during the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear. Kentucky Wired is a statewide initiative that aims to create a high-speed fiber-optic network in all of the state’s 120 counties.

Judge Executive Dean Watts makes a point during the court’s discussion of Kentucky Wired.

Brown told the crowd that the original timeline for getting the network built was “unrealistic.” Once deployed, the plan is for Kentucky Wired to serve state agencies, public schools, libraries, courthouses, etc.

Bluegrass Networks is the infrastructure arm of Bluegrass Cellular, and is owned by the same four telephone co-ops that own Bluegrass Cellular. Bluegrass is the company that first approached Nelson Fiscal Court last fall seeking a franchise agreement that would allow it to run fiber optic lines through Nelson County into Marion and Washington counties. The magistrates questioned Bluegrass personnel about the project on two occasions, but never voted to approve a franchise agreement the company sought.

Brown updated the magistrates on the status of the project, and the fact that the Central Kentucky part of the project is at a standstill without the needed franchise agreement from Nelson Fiscal Court.

Brown said Nelson County was one of Kentucky Wired’s “barriers to construction,” one of a number that he is facing in getting Kentucky Wired deployed.

Magistrate Keith Metcalfe led the questions about Kentucky Wired’s need to pass through Nelson County, the public-private partnership, and the fairness of the manner in which the network was being created.

Brown answered Metcalfe questions, and underscored that the contracts written for Kentucky Wired would cost the state more to cancel than to build out the network. The engineering costs to redesign the network to bypass Nelson County will cost the state millions of additional dollars, Brown said — Millions of dollars the project does not have.

“We have the engineering for Nelson, Washington and Marion counties done,” Brown said. “We can’t afford to redo this.”

Magistrates Sam Hutchins and Keith Metcalfe look over a map during Tuesday’s meeting of Nelson Fiscal Court.

Watts told the court that Nelson County has good internet service, but the real need for high-speed internet is in neighboring Washington and Marion counties.

The fiber lines that Bluegrass will construct will be owned by Bluegrass and leased to Kentucky Wired, Brown said. The contract companies typically install additional fiber lines during construction for their own use and possible resale.

Watts said he plans to bring a franchise agreement to a vote at fiscal court’s meeting April 3, citing the need for broadband internet in underserved areas elsewhere in Central Kentucky.

CORONER’S PAY. Nelson County Coroner Field Houghlin did not attend Tuesday’s Nelson Fiscal Court meeting, but information he provided the court supported his request that Nelson Fiscal Court grant him a significant pay raise.

The coroner’s annual pay right now is $11,900. Coroners for other counties of similar size are paid substantially more — the Barren County coroner (population 43,993) is paid $18,898, and the Shelby County coroner (population 46,408) is paid $21,000. The budget for each office is also significantly higher than the budget for Nelson County’s coroner.

According to state law, the coroner’s pay must be changed during an election year by the fiscal court. Watts recommended Houghlin receive a pay raise based on the increased number of cases he has been involved with, which has grown from 99 in 2009 to 188 for the first 10 months of 2017.

The court took no action, but is expected to next month.

In other business, the court

— approved a resolution regarding county funds to help with the transportation costs of parochial school children. The 2017-18 transportation costs are estimated to be $200,000.

— received a draft jail budget for the next fiscal year. The budget adds approximately $300,000 to the current budget.

— approved reappointing Mary Crum Spalding and Sidney Shouse to the Bardstown-Nelson County Human Rights Commission.

NEXT UP. Nelson Fiscal Court will meet at 9 a.m. April 3, 2018, in the fiscal court meeting room on the second floor of the Old Courthouse.


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