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Rural Digital Divide Two-Fold Problem For KY

Associated Press

The Internet is an essential tool in the daily lives of many Americans - however, Kentucky's challenges in closing the rural digital divide are two-fold. An estimated 22 percent of Kentuckians have access to two or fewer broadband providers in their area, and the Kentucky Wired plan to ensure high speed access in every county is behind schedule.

Tim Marema, vice president of Center for Rural Strategies, explains another struggle will be ensuring that once folks are up and running, they're not shut out. "A lot of us are concerned about access, and it's critically important for rural areas," Marema states. "But while we're working on access, we need to remember that rules like net neutrality are what the Internet useful for all of us in the future."

Marema explains net neutrality kept the Internet free and open for all, by prohibiting companies from creating slow lanes for specific content. The Federal Communications Commission voted to roll back net neutrality last year, and Kentucky recently joined nearly two dozen states fighting that decision in federal appeals court. In May, the Senate voted to reverse the FCC repeal, and some Senate Democrats are urging House leaders to schedule a similar vote.

A recent poll found lack of high speed online access is a serious problem for 24 percent of rural Americans, compared to 13 percent in urban and 9 percent in suburban areas. Marema says rural schools, hospitals and businesses depend on the Internet to connect with resources outside their communities. "Broadband isn't just for entertainment or to send photos of your cat to somebody," he stresses. "It's critically important, the same way that having a good water system or electricity is. It's just like a utility. It's not an extra anymore."

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear contends a free and open Internet and high speed broadband would allow the state to attract high quality jobs and offer world class education for children. He add it isn't a partisan issue. "More Republicans and Democrats agree on this issue than just about any other one we've seen," he points out. "And I'd like to think that if those two groups can come together, it means we ought to do what the will of the people says, keep these regulations in place."

A survey found 86 percent of Americans disagree with the repeal of net neutrality, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats.