Rep. Martha Jane King hopeful special House panel on technology paves the way for statutory committee on subject

06/19/2015 09:02 AM

State Rep. Martha Jane King has been clamoring for a technology-focused legislative committee since joining the General Assembly in 2009, saying such a panel could have eased the path for bills on the deregulation of landline telephone service and reformulating how much cellular telephone users pay in monthly 911 surcharges.

The Lewisburg Democrat will get that opportunity on Tuesday when she gavels in a special House panel on advanced communications and information technology.

“Technology is like any other subject matter,” King said in an interview with Pure Politics. “It has its own vocabulary, it has its own points that you want to talk about, and I think that we can move technology forward more rapidly in the General Assembly having a committee that just talks about the issues of technologies.

“So after seven years of asking and talking and pleading, the speaker (House Speaker Greg Stumbo) did agree that we did need a committee on technology.”

She hopes the Senate will facilitate a standing committee on technology soon, and she says she has been speaking with Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, on the subject.

The first item on the special House panel’s agenda Tuesday involves an expansive project to install a broadband infrastructure throughout the state called Kentucky Wired, the goal of which is to provide high-speed Internet in all 120 counties.

The state ranks near the bottom nationally in broadband speed and accessibility, and about a quarter of Kentucky’s rural areas currently cannot obtain high-speed Internet, according to figures previous cited by state officials.

Gov. Steve Beshear, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and others announced the plan in December. The state is partnering with Australian company Macquarie Capital on the project, which has an estimated price tag of $250 million to $350 million and is expected to be complete by 2018.

Work on the so-called Next Generation Kentucky Information Highway is expected to begin this summer.

But King says questions still need to be answered about the project. Although Beshear and others said in announcing the plan that current broadband infrastructure will be implemented, a number of providers in her home region of western Kentucky have contacted her and Finance and Administration Cabinet officials with concerns.

“We definitely need a statewide network, but when you look at Kentucky, we do not have one continuous fiber network, but if you look at Kentucky as a 1,000-piece puzzle, we have great pockets of broadband service,” she said, noting Russellville is the first Kentucky city to provide 1-gigabit broadband speeds and invested a considerable sum on the project.

“We want to hear from the cabinet as we talk about them putting this infrastructure in, number one, will you take advantage of existing infrastructure like in a Russellville area where you already have very good broadband, or will you double the investment and put in additional fiber?” she continued.

“Will you use the fiber that’s already in the ground when we get to the endpoint customers? Will you be looking at taking the schools and putting them on the dark-fiber network, or will they continue to be serviced by the providers that have them? Also within that corridor around Kentucky, any new business that might come.”

King also addressed House Bill 152, the so-called AT&T bill given that company’s lobbying efforts in recent sessions.

She voted for the bill that will become law on Wednesday, but she continues to hear grumbles from constituents in her 16th House District concerned that they’ll lose the landline telephone service they depend on, particularly in inclement weather.

Exchanges that service fewer that 15,000 housing units as of Jan. 1 will still be required to provide landline telephone service where it exists under HB 152, but residents can elect to receive wireless phone service, with 60 days to decide whether to revert back to a landline.

“There is still that misunderstanding with that issue,” King said. “So again, back to technology and all things that we talk about, these issues can be very in-depth, they can be technical, they can have language that you really don’t understand, and it takes a lot of time to drill down into that.”

Watch King’s full interview here:


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.