The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted unanimously at its December meeting to approve six members to the newly created Letcher County Broadband Board.
Judge/ Executive Jim Ward told the court this has been one of those rare times when he actually had people calling him to express an interest in serving on a board, rather than having to be asked.
Appointed were Whitesburg computer technician Roland Brown, Letcher County teacher Harry Collins, Chris Bates, corporate compliance officer and grant writer for Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, Bryan Ison, director of technology at Kentucky River Community Care, Whitesburg businessman Joel Beverly, and Izzy Broomfield, director of communications and marketing at Mountain Tech Media. Ward and District Two Magistrate Terry Adams will represent the court on the board.
The court was unanimous in emphasizing the importance of getting the broadband issue right, and in making certain the entire county has access to the high-speed Internet that will be made available through the Kentucky Wired Project. Kentucky Wired is part of the SOAR Initiative and was sponsored by Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers and then-Governor Steve Beshear.
Ward told the court that according to what he has been told in meetings about the project, every subscriber should have access to 100 megabytes per second of access. He added that while this sounds like a lot to access-starved rural locations in Letcher County, it will soon be augmented with higher speeds up to one terabyte.
One megabyte is equal to one million bytes of information. One terabyte is equal to one million million bytes. To put this into perspective, the fastest dial-up modems move information at the blazing rate of 56 kilobytes per second. One kilobyte is equal to 1,024 bytes. A byte is one unit of binary information, which usually represents one symbol, such as a number or letter.
Ward said that Internet service providers (ISPs) who currently do business in the county will have an advantage in submitting bids because they already have the necessary infrastructure in place. However, he added that bids will not be limited by districts or state lines and all Internet service providers will be able to bid to provide service if they wish to. He said the initial trunk line, which runs from northeastern Kentucky through Pikeville and Jenkins to Whitesburg and Letcher County, will contain what he called dark fiber.
The biggest issue the court and board will need to address is making certain that the ISPs keep the faith with customers who live in the “last mile”, that portion of the service in the most rural parts of the county.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming said the court, which will have the fi- nal say over franchise agreements and will be able to monitor ISPs to make sure they treat their customers fairly, must be certain that the most rural areas are not punished while ISPs load up on the more profitable densely populated cities.
Several magistrates spoke of poor service throughout the county, combined with high prices, spotty service, and exorbitant rates in rural areas. Fleming said his service comes and goes in Jenkins and District Four Magistrate Keith Adams said that many in his district do not have access to anything beyond dial-up. Ward said he will contact the newly appointed members and set up a time for the first meeting.
In other business, the court accepted the 2017 budgets for the Letcher County Court Clerk’s Office and the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department. County Clerk Winston Meade submitted a budget of $5,585,700, with a maximum amount of salary and benefits for deputies and assistants of $565,529.06 with approximately $2,000 in excess fees.
Ward said the lowered expectation for excess fees is a sign of the hard financial times. Meade told the court he will be back in January with a final settlement for excess fees for 2016.
Deputy Eugene Slone presented the sheriff’s office budget of $704,150, with an estimate of $50 in excess fees. The maximum amount of salaries and benefits for deputies and assistants is set at $420,000. This amount covers all salaries, including overtime, all health insurance and other benefits, and vacation and sick leave. Slone said there may be a revision in the budget in January and the court will be notified if that happens.
The court also voted unanimously to add Tech Sergeant William D. Back, U.S. Army, World War II, to the Blackey Memorial Board, and to dedicate Axis Road at Payne Gap in Jenkins to Bronze Star recipient Sergeant First Class Ray Rose, U.S. Army, and to his granddaughter, U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Jennifer L. Jenson.