Today, U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05) and his guest, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), visited Jackson and Perry Counties to discuss broadband-based opportunities in Eastern Kentucky. Rogers invited Chairman Wheeler to meet with local leaders about innovative projects that are already underway to utilize the anticipated connection to high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable in the region.
"Chairman Wheeler shared a wealth of insight and expertise on a broad range of telecom issues," said Congressman Rogers. "His visit comes during a critical time in Eastern Kentucky, as our local communities pave the way for broadband access that can transform the way we do business, administer healthcare and educate our young people."
In Jackson County, a private forum was hosted by the People's Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC) to highlight the first gigabit communities in the region with 100% connectivity or access to broadband in Jackson and Owsley Counties. Local leaders demonstrated the impact it is already having on education and retraining coal miners for new jobs in the high-tech industry.
"Broadband is the greatest asset of the 21st century," said Chairman Wheeler. "We are teaching kids how to harness all of the benefits of broadband-enabled technologies; how to have the skills to use this network to not only obtain a job some day, but to grow jobs here."
During the meeting, Congressman Rogers presented a first-time "Innovative Leadership Award" to Keith Gabbard, CEO of PRTC for his boldness and perseverance to provide broadband access to people living in two of the most rural counties in the country. The National Telephone Cooperative Association - Rural Broadband Association recently named PRTC a Smart Rural Community and Gig-Capable Provider.
"This fiber is not just our future -- it's here now. We're already seeing the benefits of having this fiber infrastructure in our rural counties," said Gabbard. "People can work from home now thanks to this network. Some people are even moving here to be able to work from home."
In Perry County, a SOAR Business and Broadband Series was hosted by the Hazard Community and Technical College. Hilda Legg, former Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Services, moderated a round table discussion about business and broadband, including local business owners, educators, healthcare providers and government leaders. Jamie Adams, a former coal miner served as a panelist with his new employer, Lynn Parrish, CEO of Bit Source in Pikeville.
"If it wasn't for the broadband we have now, I would have had to move out of here to find work," said Adams, who is now a Developer at Bit Source. "I went back to school to get a degree in information technology, because I didn't want to leave this area."
"Some of our former coal miners are now learning how to mine code," said Congressman Rogers. "We will continue to fight for coal jobs, but we need to let the people of this region know that there is hope as we work to create new opportunities. The leaders we've heard from today are building a foundation of a whole new way of life for our region."
Before the final event concluded, Chairman Wheeler applauded local leaders for serving as a model of success in rural America.
"You are making a difference," stated Chairman Wheeler. "You are the folks who are making the promise of a new network happen."
Rogers has served Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District since 1981. With a focus on economic development, job creation, fighting illegal drugs and preserving Appalachia’s natural treasures, he has a reputation for listening to his constituents and fighting for the region he represents. For more information, visit http://halrogers.house.gov/ or follow Rogers on Twitter, Instagram or on Facebook.