What is ConnectKentucky exactly?

by on May 22, 2008 · 30 comments

connectkentucky-1.jpgI’d like to tap TLF’s incredibly smart readers for some help. Does anyone know what ConnectKentucky is or how it works? If you do, I’d much appreciate you post a comment explaining it. Its website is typified by language like this passage from its homepage:

ConnectKentucky connects people to technology in world-altering ways: improving the lives of the formerly disconnected; renewing hope for previously withering rural communities; driving increases in the number of tech-intensive companies and jobs; and nurturing an environment for lifetime learning, improved healthcare, and superior quality of life. … ConnectKentucky develops and implements effective strategies for technology deployment, use, and literacy in Kentucky, creating both the forum and the incentive for interaction among a variety of people and entities that would not otherwise unite behind common goals and a shared vision. This level of teamwork is making Kentucky a better place for business and a better place to live.

Most press articles about the organization are no better at explaining exactly what it does, and its Wikipedia entry is so-so. The best explanation I’ve found is from an article in the Economist:

Internet service providers could not be sure that there were enough [potential customers] in the Kentucky countryside to justify new investment in cabling or wireless transmitters. But by the end of this year, Mr Mefford boasts, 98% of residents will have access to inexpensive broadband services. This is primarily because of ConnectKentucky’s effort to map broadband demand in communities that didn’t have access, he says, which indicated that enough people in Kentucky farm country would sign up if providers entered the market. At the same time, the organisation also talked up high-speed internet services to sceptical residents, creating demand where it was slack.

Ars Technica also had this useful description:

ConnectKentucky is a public/private partnership that has boosted broadband availability from 60 percent to more than 90 percent in just two and a half years and used mapping techniques to identify current gaps in service. Once those were discovered, the group helped to create a regulatory environment that encouraged private investment, then partnered with companies on a market-driven approach to rolling out new lines, even in rural areas. 80 percent of the funding came from state and federal government agencies, while 20 percent was put up by the companies involved. By the end of this year, 100 percent of Kentucky homes should be able to access broadband of at least 768Kbps.

I’m asking because the program has many times been hailed as a model for other states and for the nation. So here are my questions: What exactly does ConnectKentucky (and its parent Connected Nation) do? How serious is lack of broadband mapping? Is there a market failure here (i.e. why aren’t private parties generating this sort of data)? What sort of changes did it secure “to create a regulatory environment that encouraged private investment”? Why is it up to a mostly government-funded organization to “talk[] up high-speed internet services to sceptical residents”? Who are the private partners in this public-private partnership?

UPDATE: Here is an article by Art Brodsky critical of ConnectKentucky’s origins and effectiveness, and here is CK’s response.

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