Working towards a new broadband authority

Working towards a new broadband authority
Mar 01, 2021

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Kentucky’s ag department may be responsible for planning and coordinating broadband development in the state

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer
Farms.com

A state agriculture department may soon be responsible for broadband issues in its community.

House Bill 348, which would create a new Office of Broadband Innovation within the Kentucky department of agriculture, passed a committee reading on Feb. 23. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.

If passed, the new branch of the ag department would “be the sole executive branch agency to apply for, receive, administer, and expend federal funds for broadband deployment,” the bill says.

Hundreds of thousands of Kentucky homes remain without adequate broadband service.

About 257,000 people in the state don’t have access to broadband services, BroadbandNow.com reports. Overall, the state ranks 40th in broadband access.

For context, the Federal Communications Commission categorizes basic service as speeds between 3 and 8 Mbps. Medium service is 12 to 25 Mbps and advanced service is anything higher than 25 Mbps.

The department of ag is well-suited to take on some broadband responsibilities, lawmakers said.

“We feel (it) does have a natural fit when it comes to broadband deployment,” Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles said, the Messenger-Inquirer reported. “Our office has an intimate understanding of the needs of rural Kentucky.”

Other state politicians are concerned if the ag department can handle these additional duties.

“I’m worried about the Commissioner of Agriculture’s office having the expertise,” said Rep. Angie Hatton, the Messenger-Inquirer reported.

Kentucky wouldn’t be the first state to create separate broadband offices to oversee this issue.

Florida, Washington State, Minnesota and New York are examples of states that already have offices specifically for broadband issues.

Farms.com has contacted members of Kentucky’s ag community for comment.

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