KentuckyWired is the creation of misguided, if well-intentioned, policymakers who want more Kentuckians – especially those in rural areas – to take advantage of broadband networks.
What’s more likely to happen with this big shiny new government-owned network is that the cost to taxpayers of building and maintaining it will far outpace its benefits.
Lawmakers already committed at least $50 million for the project without even knowing the terms of the agreement with private “partner” Macquarie Capital, which finances and constructs large infrastructure projects worldwide.
Such hurried, flawed and high-cost contracts consistently contribute to the failure of such government-private sector ventures.
Another red flag for taxpayers is that Macquarie, which was tapped to build, maintain and operate the network as part of the Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative, previously failed to close a bad-for-ratepayers’ deal with a public broadband system in Utah.
Macquarie demanded during those deliberations that utility customers shell out an additional $20 monthly fee even if they didn’t use the broadband service.
Will Macquarie require something similar of Kentuckians? Apparently no one can say for sure because our state government entered into the agreement without even finalizing the contract.
Broadband networks also require continual investment to remain on the cutting edge.
Who will pay for those upgrades? Taxpayers? The private sector?
Again, we don’t know.
It doesn’t help matters that members of Gov. Beshear’s Finance Cabinet in recent testimony before the newly formed House Advanced Communications and Information Technology Committee used data gathered in 2012 to advocate for the SOAR network. This despite the fact that newer data is available every six months.
Are these bureaucrats unaware of the many new products and technological advances made since 2012?
Private-sector companies cannot afford such incompetence. They must remain on top of – and be skilled in using – the latest data and technology in order to remain viable and profitable.
The Beshear administration’s testimony claims that 23 percent of rural Kentuckians and 1.5 percent of urban residents don’t have wired broadband access, which was true in 2012.
However, since that time, updated information culled from the federal government’s National Broadband Map tool shows that private industry has invested in Kentucky’s networks and closed those gaps to the point that only 15 percent of rural Kentuckians and 0.4 percent of the commonwealth’s urban dwellers lack such access.
Include the wireless sector – by which a growing number of Kentuckians connect to the Internet through smartphones and mobile devices – and more than 99 percent of all Bluegrass State residents have snappy access to the worldwide Web, which is nearly 5 percent more than in 2012.
If policymakers can’t even do the simple task of updating data to make their case, how can taxpayers be confident they will responsibly and efficiently build and operate a network that requires consistent maintenance and upgrades to ride the wave of ever changing information technology?
State-government officials also admit they have no clear privacy protections in place for KentuckyWired users, which presents a whole new gigabyte of potential crashes.
Privacy advocates from across the ideological spectrum warn that Kentucky needs stringent policies to keep Big Brother in Frankfort from using its broadband infrastructure to collect and share data.
Will government officials assert a right to monitor or interfere with data passing over the state-owned lines – just like the federal government is asserting it can shut down cellphone service during a national emergency?
We won’t have to build it before we know the answers to these vital questions, will we?
Before this costly network goes online, Kentuckians deserve to participate in a debate about privacy protections from an increasingly nosy government.
Their representatives need to act to make sure this network being forced upon us doesn’t threaten the privacy rights of the consumers and taxpayers it’s supposed to serve.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at email@example.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.