The slow spread of high-speed internet access into rural areas of Warren County received a needed – but, alas, not an immediate – boost last week when Charter Communications acknowledged its intention to use federal funding to expand its service in the area.
Charter, which operates in Warren County as Spectrum, told Warren Fiscal Court on Friday that it will use $1.2 million in federal money to bring broadband internet service to about 1,600 Warren County homes that are not currently covered. This is good news, but it comes with a catch: There is no clear timeframe for when it might happen.
Such is the conundrum for rural residents aching for internet service that is robust enough to keep up with the pace of modern life. On one hand, local governments and private business both realize there is a need and are trying to fill it. On the other hand, regulatory and logistical hurdles make progress frustratingly difficult.
Charter’s apparent plan will occur alongside an ongoing initiative by North Central Communications Inc., a subsidiary of Lafayette, Tenn.-based NCTC, which has started serving customers in parts of the Alvaton and Boyce communities. A partnership between Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. and NCTC, which was announced in 2019, originally was intended to bring broadband internet service to nearly 800 homes that currently have no high-speed access.
Fiscal court, using funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, voted last October to allocate $300,000 toward expanding the WRECC-NCTC initiative.
WRECC Director of Communication and Public Relations Kim Phelps said the extra funding should allow NCTC to extend service to about 350 more WRECC members.
Any progress is good progress, but right now the combined coverage of these plans would include less than 3,000 homes in Warren County, where officials have said perhaps 30% to 35% of residents do not have access to high-speed internet service. As we’ve seen over the past year – when remote-work and nontraditional instruction scenarios increased during the coronavirus pandemic – many Warren Countians are at distinct professional and academic disadvantages if they lack fast and reliable internet service.
The fact of the matter is that our culture’s reliance on technology is advancing at a much faster pace than is the rural infrastructure that provides such services. That dichotomy must be corrected as quickly as possible – if it is not, huge swaths of rural America will fall so far behind the rest of the nation that catching back up could prove nearly impossible.
We applaud entities such as Charter, WRECC, NCTC and local governments for doing what they can to address this vital issue, which – at least at its current pace – isn’t going away anytime soon. Any stakeholder in southcentral Kentucky’s communities should prioritize and incentivize the expansion of high-speed internet service until everyone who wants it has the opportunity to get it.
If Warren County and surrounding areas are to continue to thrive in the coming decades, modern communication infrastructure simply must become more widely available. If it is not, we fear that the economic and population growth of this region could be at risk of hitting the proverbial brick wall.