The Lake Barkley Partnership continues its mission to increase high-speed Internet connection in Lyon, Caldwell, Crittenden, and Livingston counties to levels comparable to those of more populated regions of the commonwealth. Now, the partnership is leading Kentucky participants in developing their own maps in an effort to prove Internet coverage here is far less than Federal Communications Commission maps portray.

The goal is to attract an Internet provider, who will level out the playing field. The method would be to combine the more connected and lucrative larger population areas with nearby, less-populated rural areas to make high speed Internet available to all at reasonable prices.

How does that factor into the building of infrastructure? “Honestly, that’s the kind of thing we’re trying to figure out,” said Amanda Davenport, the partnership’s executive director. “How do we spread out the cost to everybody, so the remote houses in different parts of the county still can have Internet service?”

Davenport and others hope speed tests and statewide mapping will reflect Kentucky’s needs accurately. “We talked to the Lyon County Fiscal Court late last year about how incorrect the FCC’s maps are, where they show the underserved areas and speeds related to the Internet,” she said. “The next step is that Kentucky is creating its own maps that show speeds in served and underserved areas.”

Thanks to the latest technology, that’s where local citizens can contribute in a grass roots approach. “So, as the state announces they’re updating the maps, they will post a link to a speed test,” Davenport explained. “Residents can log on to any device — phone, tablet, or computer — at any location, whether home, work, school, or whatever they’re doing. People can take speed tests in their own locations with their own devices.”

The readings will go into the state’s database to show the actual Internet speed there. For anyone on a wireless device, like a cell phone, it will report their carrier and the speed. Those logging on to a WiFi network through a local Internet connection also will report the speeds to the state through that network.

That project can make a real difference because it will help create accurate maps of Internet availability in Kentucky today. “So, it is really important that when the state rolls out that program and sends out the link for the speed test that we all get online to take that test, showing the Internet speeds,” Davenport said. “Kentucky is not the only state involved. We’re seeing a lot of states developing their own maps. They’re saying, ‘Hey, this is what is actually happening in our state,’ so they can challenge maps that service providers report they’re providing, but they’re really not.”

Not only will the project reflect what is happening on the ground level with the speeds today, but it also helps in local leaders’ mission to find local Internet service providers. That’s the case whether it be through a national telecom or through one of the electric co-ops or working with a telephone co-op.

“One of the challenges currently is that high-density areas have pretty good service,” Davenport said. “Some of what we consider high-density areas, like Madisonville or Paducah, are pretty big cities, compared to rural counties. Yet, even they have issues of people getting service.”

It shows the needs of all in western Kentucky. Just because one business can get Internet service that’s really reliable and affordable for them doesn’t mean all the residents are getting or have access to that same speed. “I think that this will really help show the disparities,” Davenport noted, “even in high population areas in western Kentucky, compared to central Kentucky.”

That’s where some of the rural electric co-ops come into play, because they already have significant infrastructure in place, along a telephone line. Working with a network that already has filled out significant aerial fiber backbones to several parts of the county helps.

“So, then we can figure out how we can get into the other parts of the county,” Davenport explained. “ ‘Kentucky-wired’ is the state initiative to provide fiber to every county in Kentucky. Right now, they are mostly complete with the build-out of the fiber structure. So, their next steps will be working with cities and counties and local Internet service providers to get service to all of the counties.”

Recently, Davenport met with the county judge-executives and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss various funding programs and ways to use their rural development funds to defray the costs of technology reaching the rural areas.

“We’re talking about programs that could be available to figure the cost and logistics of providing this service,” Davenport concluded. “Our next major step will be this big, statewide speed test, then pushing out the information from it as soon as possible. I anticipate that happening within the next few weeks. We’re planning to offer a link to the speed test to get as many residents as possible to respond to it.”