Bill to kill controversial project to bring government-owned broadband to state considered by Senate committee

Fiber optics in blue, close up with keyboard background, warm lens flare

As many state leaders have expressed concerns about a project to bring high-speed broadband to underserved parts of the state through a government-owned fiber network, a Senate committee discussed legislation to kill the project as it continues to rack up taxpayer costs and is years behind schedule.

On Thursday evening, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee discussed Senate Bill 253, sponsored by committee chair Sen. Chris McDaniel, which would simply end the KentuckyWired project started under the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear to bring broadband to all areas of the state.

Sen. McDaniel expressed frustrations, noting the General Assembly was told in September 2015 the total cost of the project would be $330 million with only $30 million having to be paid by the state but the costs to the state alone have now reached $133.8 million by the end of 2020 and the project is three years behind schedule.

An audit by state Auditor Mike Harmon found if the project continues but never goes live, which he expressed is a real possibility, the costs to Kentucky taxpayers would be $1.5 billion. Harmon stated if the state pulls out of the project through this bill, Kentucky could save close to $1 billion of that estimate as ending the KentuckyWired contract now would cost around $600 million. The auditor said if the project does go live, the state could mitigate some of that $1.5 billion but it would still result in a large cost to the taxpayers.

Representatives from the KentuckyWired stated the previous administration did underestimate/misrepresented the costs to the state of the project but expressed concerns about shutting down the project and getting out of contracts signed by the state associated with the broadband deal.

In 2015, The Bottom Line published a detailed report showing opinions on both sides of the KentuckyWired project with interviews. View that report here.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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