New broadband’s impact compared to I-75

No earth will be moved until at least next month, but city department heads were told Monday that a new “super highway” is coming to Richmond with an impact that could rival Interstate 75’s. At present, the Federal Communications Commission defines broadband internet service as 25 megabits per second for downloads and 5 Mbs for uploads. The KentuckyWired fiberoptic backbone that will parallel I-75 from Covington to Mt. Vernon will allow speeds of 1,000 Mbs, or 1 gigabit.

That will dwarf the contrast in speeds between I-75 and US 25, said Nancy Ward of Solarity, the city’s consultant for the KentuckyWired iniative. To illustrate the difference in speeds, the consultants showed a video of a 20 gallon bucket being drained through a succession of holes. At the equivalent of 25 Mbs, the bucket would need several minutes to drain. But at 1 gigabit, it drained instantly.

Briefing its department heads on KentuckyWired is the first step in the city’s effort to education the public about the opportunities that KentuckyWired will offer, Ward said. In January, the city commission approved a memorandum of understanding with the state making Richmond a node on the KentuckyWired network, giving it commercial access priority. It retained Solarity in March.

(Eastern Kentucky University and Madison County Schools will have their own nodes.)

In addition to serving business and industry, the high-speed service also can be offered to homes, Ward explained said. Education and telemedicine is among the uses of high-speed internet to homes, Ward said.

In communities with internet speeds that allow instant monitoring of medical data, elderly people are able to remain longer at home with their families, she said. Ward said a student from Chicago received an EKU nursing degree this weekend without stepping on campus until her graduation ceremony. More such opportunities are available with the highest internet speeds. The city may chose from among several options of how to capitalize on the opportunity KentuckyWired presents, Ward explained.

Richmond could form its own utility that would own local, street-by-street infrastructure and sell service to end users. It could offer to franchise infrastructure and service as it does cable television. Or it could join the growing trend of hybrid, public-private partnerships, Ward explained. Solarity recommends the city start with an internal steering team and then create a community advisory group.

Every community is different, and Solarity’s role is to help Richmond’s government and community leaders chose the best path, Ward explained. After the meeting, Mayor Jim Barnes said he will appoint a steering team in the near future after consulting with City Manager Richard Thomas and the city commission. Barnes, Thomas and City Commissioner Jim Newby were among those who attended Monday’s meeting.

While high-speed internet may offer great opportunities for local businesses, industries and homes, the mayor said, the city must be cautious about obligating itself to build costly infrastructure. A public-private partnership will likely be Richmond’s best option, Barnes said. One firm has already inquired about the opportunity to install infrastructure, he added. Predicting how the information super highway and digital revolution will change society is far more difficult than predicting how I-75 would changes cities such as Richmond, said Solarity’s Terry Barnes (no relation to the mayor).

Who can remember Richmond before I-75, Ward asked the group of about 20. Among the few raising their hands was Mayor Barnes. Without the interstate, Richmond would be only a shadow of what it is today, the mayor said.

Terry Barnes, who graduated from EKU and earned another degree from Duke University, said he grew up in Carlisle. Like Richmond, it was a county-seat town with a railroad in the mid-20th century. After the interstate highway system was completed, however, towns on the interstate like Richmond thrived, while those off the highway have declined, Terry Barnes noted.

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