Features — 19 June 2014

Free public access to computers with broadband internet service just became a reality in Fulton County, Kentucky. Two West Kentucky Broadband eLearning Centers – one at the Fulton County Public Library in Fulton and one at the National Guard Armory in Hickman – opened June 17th after much planning and anticipation. The centers provide citizens the opportunity to take advantage of benefits associated with broadband access, and will eventually offer classes on topics ranging from basic computer use to job skills training. The Fulton site has 15 computers and is open during normal library hours, while the Hickman site houses nine computers and is open as community interest dictates. Additional sites are in the works for the other 3 river counties of Ballard, Carlisle, and Hickman.

The project is a partnership between MSU, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), and the Commonwealth Office of Broadband Outreach and Development (OBOD). MSU’s Office of Regional Outreach and Office of Telecommunication Systems Management were asked to serve as the contractors for the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the three partners facilitating the resources to aid in the implementation of the broadband plans. Human resource management, regional relationship building, site setup, administrative support, and technical advising will be provided through the duration of the grant, with the intent that the communities will take over running the sites at the end of 2014. As stated on the OBOD website, Governor Beshear established the OBOD and the Broadband KY initiative in 2010 to “identify areas across the state that are un-served and under-served by affordable broadband service. Broadband KY facilitates greater understanding and partnerships to take the steps necessary to provide all Kentuckians with these critical capabilities.”

Getting the centers up and running required major organizational effort from all partners – from sorting out the details of the MOA and funding to the logistics of finding sites to house the computers and furniture. Positive results are quickly becoming apparent, as was demonstrated at the Fulton County Public Library center grand opening. One community member in attendance successfully completed an online job application within 15 minutes. “Very rarely do you see instant gratification of hard work and partnerships, but that is exactly what we experienced in Fulton County today,” Gina Winchester, executive director of Regional Outreach, “and we look forward to seeing the impact of all the centers in the four river counties.” For more information on the eLearning centers, contact the Office of Regional Outreach at 270-809-5088.

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