Transition In Action, Broadband: Jared Arnett

Who are you, and what’s your role at your organization?

My name is Jared Arnett and I am the Executive Director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) and co-founder of Mountain Music Exchange, LLC in Pikeville, KY.

How are you involved in broadband expansion in the region?

At SOAR, we focus our broadband work in two ways:

  1. Access – we try to be a champion to support and drive action as it relates to infrastructure development. This includes work to support the state-wide middle mile project, KentuckyWired, while we have also put together a Last-Mile Action Team to support local communities who are seeking to leverage the KentuckyWired network to provide faster, and more affordable access to broadband for their residents and businesses. We have have helped coordinate funding for several feasibility and engineering studies in communities across eastern Kentucky.
  2. Adoption – Having access to high-speed, affordable brings economic opportunity but it does not guarantee success. This is why we are focusing a lot of our work on partnerships that provide access to learning Digital Economy skill sets including computer programming, medical coding, cloud computing skill sets, software development, etc. Some of the results of these partnerships include Dream Martin County’s Expansion, TEKY/Interapt, a TeleWorks hub in Booneville, BitSource, SOAR-STEM, and the development of a TeleHealth Technician Certificate at HCTC. The TEKY efforts will now be expanded into Hazard Community and Technical College and Southeast Community and Technical College through a recently announced ARC Power Grant. This new expansion will likely continue the effort with Interapt, while adding partners such as Amazon Web Services to the list of potential employers. Seeking to capitalize on the opportunity broadband brings is also why we held a conference in December entitled “Connect Your Economy,” where we brought in experts from across North America to share best practices on how communities have leveraged broadband connectivity for their small businesses to spur economic growth. You can find details of that conference here. While we’re working on building individual workforce skill sets in the region, we are also supporting pilot projects in three communities to identify 8-10 businesses and provide consulting services through the eTeams Project housed at EKCEP. The full intent is to scale these existing businesses up through e-commerce and/or export by leveraging the digital economy as a proof-of-concept. We try to focus on scalable, transformational partnerships.

Why is broadband important, and how do you think it impacts community development?

It’s our estimate that we need to employ 30,000 people Appalachia Kentucky to move the needle in a significant way. Broadband allows us to reimagine what a job is, and realize that work in the 21st century is not limited to a physical location. This idea, in coordination with the other strategies with in our regional blueprint for economic growth, could provide the innovative means to move the Appalachian economy forward in ways that were unthinkable 50 years ago, 25 years ago, or maybe even 10 years ago. I believe the economic future of Appalachia Kentucky hinges on our ability get connected, but also, to leverage the connectivity for economic growth. That means increasing 21st century skill-sets and championing the opportunities the come with the digital economy; whether we are working to develop a mobile workforce and challenging the traditional description of a job, or challenging our small business owners to seek expansion by leveraging the market access that connectivity brings.  This expands opportunity in every sector that we work in from providing telemedicine opportunities to improve health outcomes to virtual delivery of innovative education and workforce programs. I believe broadband has the capability, like nothing else, to disrupt the economic challenges we face in Appalachia Kentucky.  

What are some positive impacts or successes of broadband that you’ve seen in the region, and what are the remaining barriers to having broadband everywhere in Eastern Kentucky, and how can they be addressed?

Success includes the person in Knox County who runs nearly a $1 million Amazon Web Store out of his garage. The 35 graduates of TEKY in Paintsville, KY who are now working for a Louisville Tech Company from eastern Kentucky. The 9 coal miners who are now building web-based solutions at BitSource and selling their services to companies outside the region, while also providing a service to organizations within the region that previously would not have been available. The over 700 people employed through EKCEP’s Teleworks USA program since its inception.  The friend I know who lives in Pike County and is a grant writer for an organization in Florida. A local retail store who has shipped a product to all 50 states through its e-commerce efforts. I could go on and on.

The greatest barrier is obviously money. The roll-out of fiber infrastructure to provide fiber to the premise of every home and business will be expensive. It will take community leadership being very aggressive and innovative in the way they work with existing providers and establishing public-private partnerships to build out this expanded high-speed network. We are continuing to seek and develop a staged approach to last-mile build out in the region, but like everything else, success of a community will rise and fall with local leadership. We’re here to support that leadership in doing things they never imagined possible.