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Kentucky Mired: Broadband Project The Target Of Investigation

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AP Photo/Adam Beam, File
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This Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, shows Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, right, and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers discussing the status of the statewide broadband network at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky.

A troubled state broadband project is going under the microscope again. Monday, the top-ranking Republican in the House announced a second investigation into the project.

Kentucky Wired began under former Governor Steve Beshear with the promise of bringing high-speed internet access to far-flung, economically disadvantaged regions of the commonwealth, but persistent delays and cost overruns in the tens of millions have dampened enthusiasm for the project.

Monday, House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne called for a legislative investigation to run in tandem with an ongoing probe being conducted by State Auditor Mike Harmon. In a statement, the Prospect Republican said taxpayers deserve an "impartial and unbiased" report on the problems plaguing the $300 million dollar public-private partnership.

"Allegations and innuendo have swirled concerning the contract and the intentions behind it," Osborne warned in a statement, adding that the investigation must "confirm the grounds for drafting the contract in the manner it was, and to discover any mistakes that were made to ensure the state does not commit the same errors, if any, ever again.”

To date, just 708 of 3,400 miles of cable have been completed because of delayed agreements with companies that own the existing utility poles – and penalty payments to private partners are mounting. In the closing days of the 2018 session, lawmakers begrudgingly agreed to fund the payments to the private companies.

"This was an absolute sham perpetuated on the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Rep. Jason Nemes charged in committee. "It is an important project and we've got to through with it because of the position that we are in, but this is an outrageous example of bad government."

Pulling out of the deal could cost the state another $500 million and do further damage to the state's credit rating, according to Osborne.

Harmon's audit of the project is slated for completion this summer, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Planners now hope Kentucky Wired will be supplying broadband internet to all 120 counties by 2020.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.