Politics

Construction of a statewide broadband internet network in Kentucky has begun, but the project has been delayed and doesn’t have an estimated launch date.

When the initiative was announced in 2015 — during the last year of Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration — officials promised portions in eastern Kentucky would be completed by April 2016.

Phillip Brown is the new executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority, the agency that oversees the project. On Tuesday, he said it still wasn’t clear when the project would launch.

“We’re working as quickly as possible to get this as back-on-schedule as we possibly can,” Brown said. “And we’re trying to be creative in ways to do that.”

Last fall, Gov. Matt Bevin said the project would be complete by mid-2019.

Brown said the section of the project that includes Louisville, Lexington, Frankfort and Northern Kentucky would likely be the first completed and a segment in the eastern part of the state could follow.

The $324 million KentuckyWired initiative is supposed to include 3,400 miles of fiber optic cable stretching to every county in the state, creating the “middle mile” of a high-speed internet network.

Cities and businesses across the state will be in charge of building out the “last mile” to connect services to customers.

The project is a public-private partnership between the state and private investors led by Australian firm Macquarie Capital.

The private partners took out a loan of about $280 million to begin construction and will operate and maintain the network for 30 years, charging the state $28.5 million per year in “availability payments.”

The state originally planned on redirecting about $11 million a year in federal funds that school districts use to pay for internet, having them pay for service through KentuckyWired instead.

But after the state rebid the school district’s internet contract, AT&T protested, saying that KentuckyWired had an unfair advantage in the bidding process.

Brown said no new source of funding has emerged and the state will be able to make the payments as scheduled.

“The best way for us to deal with any funding challenges is to get the construction underway as quickly as possible so that revenue starts flowing to the network for entities that are using it,” Brown said.

The partnership will make money from charging 670 government agency locations, higher education institutions and others to use the network.

During a meeting this week, officials with the project said about 76 percent of engineering on the project has been completed and nearly 10 percent of construction.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.