County receives $1.9 million from ARC’s POWER Initiative

Published 12:41 pm Thursday, September 23, 2021

From One Harlan County

HARLAN – The Harlan County Connected project was recently awarded $1.9 million by the  Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to improve broadband services, which will include more than 40 miles of fiber  optic cabling, resulting in the capability to provide high-speed broadband access to approximately 7,300 households and over  200 businesses in Harlan County.

This award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant  operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. Additional support for the Harlan County Connected project is provided  by the Harlan County Fiscal Court bringing the total project cost to $2.4 million.

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps  to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest  in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including  broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic  playing field so our communities can thrive.”

Harlan County was eligible for these funds by participating in a regional broadband planning study. The study determined  that of the 13,513 households in Harlan County, 7,068 are under-served in terms of broadband availability. Harlan Countians also helped in this process by performing speed tests from their homes through a project administered by the Center for Rural Development in Somerset. Harlan County ranked 2nd in the state with nearly 18 percent (more than 1,900) of households  participating in the speed test.

“Good reliable internet service has become as essential as water and electricity in today’s changing world. Kids need  broadband to learn from home. Many adults have digital jobs that allow them to work from home. There are still many digital  job opportunities unfilled because the folks interested in doing the work can’t due to living in locations where the internet  speeds are terrible. This grant will drastically improve internet service for thousands of Harlan Countians. I can’t wait to get  this project started,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley. “I also want to thank the nearly 2,000 Harlan  Countians who answered the call to participate in the speed test earlier this year. It helped prove our case as to why this grant  is much needed to expand broadband to rural areas of the county and improve it in two of our downtown business districts.”

The bulk of the project’s work will include expanding broadband access to under-served communities in the remote areas of  Harlan County. Broadband will be expanded to the communities of Bledsoe, Big Laurel, Smith, Closplint, Holmes Mill and Black Mountain as part of this project. Additionally, improving levels of service in downtown Evarts and Harlan’s business  districts will be a priority of this project.

“Rural broadband expansion opens the door to new, exciting opportunities in Southeastern Kentucky from new jobs and  remote work alternatives to high-tech advancements in healthcare and education,” said Congressman Hal Rogers. “I applaud  Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley for leading the charge to earn this competitive grant to help connect more  people in Harlan County than ever before. Our future gets brighter every day!”

Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $287.8 million in 362 projects across 353 coal-impacted  counties. The $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,187 jobs, attract nearly $519.5 million in  leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the region.