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'How Quickly Can We Get People On': Beshear Unveils Plan For Low-Cost Internet

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Kentucky is launching a program aimed at providing internet access for every student in a low-income home. The initiative seeks to identify providers who are willing to supply access for $10 a month with some reimbursement from the state.

By September 15th, the administration hopes to find enough providers to bridge what's often referred to as the "digital divide." Roughly 32,000 Kentucky children live in homes without ready access to broadband, and with the pandemic driving classes online, the problem is getting more attention.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that he expects to see significant buy-in as the state is dedicating $8 million to the initiative.

"We know that this is a short-term fix, that the long-term answer to especially rural internet connectivity isn't a hotspot on your phone where you can get on your computer," the governor said. "The question is right now how quickly can we get people on. I think we're going to get a really response. We'll see as it all comes in."

Under the plan, companies would provide the low-cost high-speed internet access for the next two-to-three school years. Any K-12 student in a household currently without internet will be eligible to have the $10 monthly fee paid entirely by the state through the next school year.

Meanwhile, in Fayette County, school officials are dealing with a related problem: lack of equipment. Due to a nationwide delay, the district is having to prioritize which students receive a Chromebook this week as remote classes get underway.

With demand for the mobile devices up, the district's technology director says an order of 12,000 Chromebooks won't arrive in time for the start of the virtual school year on Wednesday. And that's forcing officials to get creative, shifting existing devices toward those most in need.

School board chair Stephanie Spires had this message for parents and guardians who may be scrambling: "If you are a family that does not have a device and absolutely needs a device, let (the district) know and we are going to make sure that you have a device."

In many cases that will mean a greater emphasis on elementary school students who may not have a way to access instructional material.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the district spent $6.5 million to outfit every student with a Chromebook. About 3,000 of the new devices are expected to arrive by the end of next week. The rest could ship over following weeks, and even into early October.

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.