With the help of a $2.4 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Ballard Telephone Cooperative is planning to expand its high-speed internet offerings further into McCracken County.
The Ballard grant is one of four high-speed broadband infrastructure projects in rural Kentucky and Tennessee in which the USDA is investing $55.3 million total. The projects are part of the USDA's ReConnect Pilot Program investments that will create or improve e-connectivity for an estimated 12,250 rural households.
"We were awarded the grant to build out our fiber optic cable network to some additional parts of McCracken County," said Randy Grogan, BTC chief executive officer.
Grogan said BTC already serves all of Ballard County and the western part of McCracken, almost to Barkley Regional Airport. The cooperative currently has approximately 4,000 total customers, with approximately 3,000 having internet service. In addition to internet services, BTC offers local and long-distance voice, television and other services.
He estimates that with the $2.4 million grant -- and an additional 25% of matching BTC funds (totaling approximately $3.2 million) -- the cooperative could expand service to about 300 additional households.
"Right now we offer all of our customers, if they want, up to a gig of service," he said. "We offer as good of service as folks in the urban areas are getting."
Broadband service can help rural customers not only enjoy faster connections for their personal internet use, but help individuals who work from home, Grogan said.
The funded service area for Ballard Telephone Cooperative is spread over 20 square miles, according to the USDA. Other infrastructure projects being funded in Kentucky and Tennessee, include:
• Duo County Telephone Cooperative Corp., an $18.7 million grant in rural Adair, Cumberland and Russell counties. The funded area is spread over 44 square miles.
• Gibson Electric Membership Corp., a $32 million grant for Fulton, Graves and Hickman counties in Kentucky, and in Dyer, Lake, Obion and Weakley counties in Tennessee, spread over 1,056 miles.
• Thacker-Grigsby Telephone Co., a $2.3 million grant in rural Breathitt County, spread over 109 square miles.
Even though the grant was only recently announced, some prospective customers have already been inquiring about the expansion, Grogan said.
"We've already had probably a dozen or more people calling asking 'when can you hook me up?' I would hope construction might start later this year," he said.
"We usually try to do construction in the better (weather) parts of the year, because we don't want to do a lot of damage to people's property as we bury our fiber. To be more realistic, it will probably be in 2021 before we start turning up customers."
Some of the delay will be due to the amount of paperwork that is required when government funds are involved, Grogan said. Dealing with environmental issues also will take some time.
"We have to jump through all the hoops," he said.