The movement to attract jobs and economic investment to Kentucky has an opportunity to take another step forward this session if the General Assembly passes Senate Bill 99, legislation that will provide telecom providers with the flexibility to invest in new technology to strengthen our Commonwealth’s communications infrastructure.
Fiber optics and wireless frequencies are today’s infrastructure of growth, just as highways, rail ways and waterways determined a community’s economic health yesterday. High-speed broadband communications erases the distances which traditionally limited markets and slowed innovation. It creates new business models and even industries. For example, wireless apps have become a $20 billion industry in just a few short years.
As companies consider where to relocate or expand, connectivity and technology are priorities. This is not simply so they can keep in touch with employees, customers and suppliers, or that they are concerned about employees’ quality of life. Rather, they see a competitive advantage.
Research has shown that companies which invest heavily in new information technologies could significantly outperform their competitors and potentially double their chances of being highly competitive, from 35 percent to 74 percent.
If Kentucky wants growth-oriented businesses, we need advanced technology. Cities such as Louisville, Lexington, and Bowling Green already have access to the best. But their neighbors in small towns and rural areas need that technology, too.
Economic recruitment often involves tax breaks or other expenditure of public dollars. Imagine the response of a local governing board if a company said “we want to invest millions in your community and all we ask is that you update ordinances to treat us the same as other businesses.” The city fathers would be chased from office if they shunned the chance to create jobs without spending a dime of taxpayer money.
Historically, Kentucky has seen a significant amount of communications investment here, but in recent years, we’ve fallen behind neighboring states like Indiana and Tennessee who have updated their laws to attract even more investment. As the communications industry grows more competitive, and businesses and consumers increasingly move to IP and other advanced technologies, the incentive for future deployment of state-of-the-art broadband into every corner of the Bluegrass State is lacking.
Applied to another industry, current communications laws would require the Main Street Hardware to stock horse collars, butter churns and lye soap. While perhaps appealing to a few shoppers, most customers would find fewer options for products they actually need.
Senate Bill 99 updates our laws by giving providers the flexibility to meet the needs of their customers by investing in the new technologies businesses and consumers are demanding. Already this session, SB 99 has passed the Kentucky Senate with strong bipartisan support (34-4) and was passed by the House Committee on Economic Development without an opposing vote. The time has come for our legislative leadership to give SB 99 the chance to be voted on by the Kentucky House of Representatives.
Simply by reforming outmoded laws, our legislators can stimulate innovation, economic growth and job-creation based on new technologies, all without spending a dime of taxpayer money. I urge them not to miss the opportunity and support SB 99.
Hal Goode is President/CEO of the Kentucky Association for Economic Development.