Five years ago, access to high-speed internet service helped Logan County’s Auburn community land one of the county’s largest employers, Canada-based Champion Petfoods.
Now, thanks to a low-interest loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development program, Logan Telephone Cooperative is aiming to roll out more fiber-optic cable that could give rural parts of Logan and two other counties the kind of internet pipeline that enticed Champion.
Logan Telephone announced last week that it is receiving a $34.4 million USDA loan that will allow the member-owned cooperative to continue a broadband expansion that started six years ago.
“We started in 2013 building our fiber-to-the-home program for our members,” Logan Telephone General Manager Greg Hale said. “This loan will allow us to continue that program through 2022 and reach about 85 percent of our membership.”
The broadband expansion will include Logan County, where Logan Telephone serves about two-thirds of the population, and parts of Butler and Muhlenberg counties.
“Our goal is to reach 100 percent of our members,” Hale said. “That last 15 percent will be the most rural areas. Those areas are expensive to reach because there aren’t as many customers.”
But reaching them does pay dividends, as Logan County Judge-Executive Logan Chick can attest.
Since Logan Telephone started its fiber-to-the-home program, Logan County cities Russellville, Auburn, Adairville and Lewisburg have all become so-called “Gig Cities,” meaning an internet speed of one gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second is available.
Auburn’s designation was particularly helpful, Chick said.
“Champion Petfoods located in Auburn largely because of” high-speed internet, Chick said. “They were concerned about internet access back to Canada. It’s a tool that’s really impressive.”
Hale agreed that broadband internet is crucial in recruiting employers.
“When you’re looking to recruit businesses of any size, they’re definitely looking for fiber,” he said. “Everyone is relying on that in order to be productive.”
Increasingly, the same can be said of homes, which is largely what Logan Telephone will be reaching with this latest investment.
“So many people are doing streaming now that they need high-speed internet,” Hale said. “And there are so many connected devices in homes that high speeds are needed. It’s quickly becoming like a utility.”
Logan Telephone is offering speeds from five megabits per second up to a gigabit, with monthly prices ranging from $49.95 to $114.95.
Providing broadband service has been a big investment for Logan Telephone, Hale said, largely because “99 percent” of its cable is underground.
“We have $20 to $25 million already invested,” he said. “Overall, we’ll probably have $60 million invested.”
Dividend payments from its investment in Bluegrass Cellular have helped Logan Telephone repay the loans to fund the broadband expansion, but Hale said reaching those final few rural customers may take more help.
“We keep looking for ways to serve all of our customers,” Hale said. “But it’s really tough in the rural areas. Some states are providing grants to help reach rural customers, but we don’t have that in Kentucky.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.