A solution to Lyon County's internet accessibility issues may not be found through WK&T Telecommunications Cooperative, at least not through the proposal now being considered by county officials.
Judge-Executive Wade White said the fiscal court is faced with what he feels is a cost-prohibitive option from the Mayfield provider to run fiber optic cable down every road in the county so that all residents and businesses could access high-speed internet. The plan would put a 45% tax increase on all Lyon County property owners over the next 30 years and cost WK&T subscribers an additional $90 per month for access.
"Right now, I'd have to say no," White said last Thursday to the idea. "We've worked on this really hard, but we need to hear from the people."
White compares broadband access to electricity in Kentucky in the first half of the 20th century. It is no longer just a luxury, it is almost a necessity to conduct many daily functions, particularly for businesses. And rural areas like Lyon County, where pockets of the population have access to high-speed internet through only cellular data -- if any at all -- are falling behind in the competition for jobs and economic development.
AT&T, FastNet Wireless and Zito Digital Cable and Internet Service are the current broadband providers in Lyon County, but pockets of the county are not served by any of the three or service is not reliable.
To pay its portion of the $20 million WK&T project, White said the county would have increase the tax rate on real property from the current 11 cents per $100 valuation to 16 cents. That would amount to an average increase of $61.45 on tax bills based on the median home value of $122,900, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2017 estimates.
A tax increase of the size needed to cover the county's portion of the project as proposed would be subject to recall, meaning voters could ultimately make the decision at the ballot box with a simple majority.
The inflated levy would be necessary to make annual payments of $283,000 to cover the county's $5 million investment over 30 years.
WK&T would put in $5 million of its own with the balance covered by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through its Broadband ReConnect Program.
"It's not a sure thing," White said of the grant. "Obviously, we could not even consider moving forward without that."
The proposal would fund the cost to run fiber optic line to unincorporated areas of the county.
The cities of Eddyville and Kuttawa would be responsible for their own contribution to have lines run to homes and businesses inside their jurisdiction limits.
The cost over each of the next 30 years would be $130,000 and $81,852, respectively, said White.
Essentially, property owners in the cities would be paying twice.
But elected city leaders said they are short on details to even be discussing any proposal with WK&T and the county.
Karen Jackson-Furman, chief operating officer for WK&T, said that the company's hope is to serve all of Lyon County, including the cities.
Currently, the company does not offer internet or TV services in the county.
"We would love to extend our service into Lyon County," she said Monday.
For purposes of WK&T's proposed grant application, a survey was circulated in recent weeks to gauge the interest of farm and business owners in having access to broadband.
But the judge-executive is asking all residents, particularly property owners, to weigh in with him or any of the county's three magistrates as to whether they want to move forward with the project or maintain the status quo and begin to explore other options.
"Magistrates are struggling," White said. "(The cost is) more than they thought we could handle."
Jackson-Furman said WK&T has no time frame set for an answer from the county.
"The ball is kind of in the county's hands right now," she said.
The project proposal has a price tag for the county almost double what White was initially anticipating.
He said early projections were that the county would need to contribute about $150,000 annually. But WK&T's insistence on running the fiber optics underground created the higher price tag.
"They got burned during the ice storm," White said, indicating the cooperatives' losses tied to downed lines run on utility poles. "The majority of the cost is tied to burying the cable."
"The best thing would be if utilities would get into this."
County officials have, in fact, been in discussions with electric utilities about taking on internet service, according to the judge-executive. The utilities already have the infrastructure in place to run above-ground fiber optic cable to every home and business. Currently, none of the three that serve Lyon County -- Kentucky Utilities Co., Kenergy Corp and Pennyrile Electric -- offer internet.
The judge-executive said the utilities have not shown much interest to this point.
County officials want to hear from the community on a proposal to run fiber optic cable to make high-speed internet available to every home and business in unincorporated Lyon County. The plan through WK&T Telecommunications Cooperative would require a tax increase for all property owners in Lyon County and cost $90 a month to subscribe. The plan would not include WK&T fiber optics within the cities of Eddyville and Kuttawa.
To weigh in, contact:
• Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White, 270-388-7311 or email@example.com
• District 1 Magistrate Bobby Cummins, 270-963-0699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• District 2 Magistrate Quin Sutton, 270-625-5028 or email@example.com
• District 3 Magistrate Jeff Fowler, 270-625-9926 or firstname.lastname@example.org