Anyone who has ever tried to stream movies or upload video to the Internet knows there is often something missing in Letcher County — speed.
Not only is it needed for entertainment, high-speed Internet is a necessity for many businesses today, and many people in Letcher County don’t have it.
That could change as projects underway now are completed over the coming months and years.
Kentucky Wired, the state project to provide high-speed Internet, received more state funding this year, and that could put the fiber-optic system in working order in Letcher and surrounding counties by 2020, said Randy Lutke, communications director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority.
A smaller project undertaken by the Letcher County Broadband Board to bring wireless Internet to Linefork could be completed by December, and Thacker-Grigsby Telephone Company, a private cable Internet and television company based in Hindman, is working on fiber optics to the home in Whitesburg.
Lutke said the Kentucky Wired project will help all Internet providers here, because it is building the “middle mile” of fiber optics. The individual companies or local governments will have to provide the “last mile,” meaning service to homes and businesses. That middle mile has to be fast enough to allow Internet companies to attach at maximum speed without lagging. Current infrastructure doesn’t do that without charging exorbitant prices to the end customers, Lutke said.
“There are critics out there who think business should be paying for this instead of government,” Lutke said. “If the big telecom companies were going to do this, they would have by now.”
In Linefork, the local broadband board is working on a wireless system that will connect to AT&T’s middle mile on Pine Mountain, broadband board vice chairman Roland Brown II said. That system will include houses from Red Star Bridge to the Perry County line on KY 7 South, then turn up KY 1103 at the county line.
The board accepted proposals on that project at its last meeting in June. Brown said those will be awarded on the spring.
A project underway now goes from around the mouth of C-Hill Rd. on KY 1103 to Lucy Branch. While TG Tel and Kentucky Wired are both stringing fiber optics, the Letcher County board has taken a cheaper route. It received a proposal for wireless Internet. GigaBeam and FiSci, the partnership that built a wireless system in Whitesburg, submitted the winning proposal for the Linefork system.
Brown said fiber would have cost $60,000 per miles of cable, and couldn’t be turned on until the project was complete. The board is still negotiating a price with GigaBeam, but it will be much cheaper, Browns said.
The expense has been one of the holdups on the state’s Kentucky Wire project, but the main problem has been getting pole attachment agreements with existing utilities, Lutke said. That pushed the anticipated completion date back two years, from 2018 to 2020.
“It will pay for itself,” Lutke said. “By leasing this, they estimate over 30 years, it will bring in $1.3 billion.”
Lutke said contractors now have to wait for fiber optic cable to be connected to 80,000 poles belonging to 74 different companies.
The small project at Linefork won’t have to wait once the radio towers are installed. Brown said the request for proposals specified the project must be completed within 90 days of the contract signing. That is expected to take place no later than mid-August, putting the system online before December 1.