State to invest $8 million to get service to non-internet homes

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The state is investing $8 million in federal CARES Act funding trying to get Internet access to the 10 percent of Kentucky homes that either don’t have access or can’t afford it.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced the “Last Mile” internet service to all Kentucky students from kindergarten through 12th grade during Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily briefing Tuesday.

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“COVID-19 has not only created new and unique challenges we must confront, it has brought to surface issues that have been plaguing our communities for generations. These underlying issues disproportionately affect communities of color and Kentuckians who live in poverty,” Coleman said. “One of these issues is lack of access to high-speed internet.”

She noted as schools have transitioned to using more nontraditional-instruction (NTI) days, it has broadened the educational gap for many communities. She said before the pandemic, approximately 90% of Kentucky’s K-12 students had internet access. That has grown to 95% over the past five months.

“We have to do better for the remaining 5% of students who do not have internet access in their homes,” Coleman said.

She said the $8 million in federal Cornavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding will help reduce the monthly cost for low-income parents to pay for internet access for their K-12 child.

A request for proposals is being sent out with a goal by Sept. 15 of identifying providers that can supply high-speed internet service for all Kentucky K-12 students in low-income homes at no more than $10 per month for the next two to three school years.

Students currently without internet access from low-income homes will be eligible to have the full $10-per-month cost paid through the next school year. Students with internet access from low-income homes will be eligible to have nearly all of the monthly cost paid through the federal Lifeline program for the next two or three school years.

The “Last Mile” internet service includes wireless options like hotspots connected to a student’s cellphone, satellites and fixed wireless capabilities. It also includes wired options like traditional services from a cable, telephone or utility company.

Details will be posted to the Kentucky Department of Education website early next week.

“We hope to get it in place as quickly as possible. If some companies want to do it before Sept. 15, we want them,” Beshear said. “We want ad need to do it as quickly as possible.”