KentuckyWired: Project’s uncertain future leaves state reeling

A year ago, Mary Lou Muncy landed her dream job advising home health care agencies on wound care.

The timing seemed perfect. Muncy’s contract as a nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Lexington had ended, and she wasn’t ready to retire. With an annual salary of $77,000, Muncy would have enough money to help her daughter pay for medical school.

But the position required high-speed internet access, which Muncy didn’t have on her farm, an hour’s drive from Lexington, the state’s second-largest city.

So, Muncy gave up the job. She hasn’t found another since.

“I realized there was no hope for us,” said Muncy, 64, who after losing the position wrote a letter to state lawmakers begging them to move quickly on a plan for broadband access in rural communities. She hoped to spare other residents the helplessness she felt when she was forced to turn away employment.

KentuckyWired, the much-heralded plan to improve internet connectivity across the state, promised to create financial opportunities through reliable, high-speed internet access for rural communities that have repeatedly been hammered by the loss of jobs in the coal and tobacco industries.

But the project is stalled and its future looks increasingly bleak because of missteps by state officials and Macquarie Capital, the Australian investment bank managing the ambitious plan, The Courier Journal and ProPublica have reported.

In the next few months, the state’s new governor, Andy Beshear, must make key decisions on the direction of KentuckyWired, which already is two years behind schedule and could cost $1.5 billion over the next 30 years.

Beshear, a Democrat who was elected in November, has repeatedly declined to say what he plans to do as impatient lawmakers threaten to block funding.

A spokeswoman for his office said he is still receiving briefings and information related to the project, which began under the gubernatorial administration of his father, Steve Beshear.

On Thursday, the governor’s cabinet secretary, J. Michael Brown, vowed to complete the project by October.

“This is one that simply can’t fail,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, the project that promised so much to residents in rural communities has yet to deliver, and it’s unclear when or if it will.

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