ASHLAND The Boyd County Convention and Arts Center offers free high-speed internet access from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Boyd County Judge-Executive Eric Chaney said this move was in response to the need in the southern part of the county, especially with students having classes at home.
“It just gives kids in southern Boyd County who struggle without internet access some help,” Chaney said. “We wanted to provide a hub where students who needed internet access could come. We’ve put out picnic tables for them to use socially distanced if they want to get out of the car. It’s a little way we could help.”
Justin Pruitt, who manages the center, was project manager for the internet access expansion. He said cost of the project, which included running more cable and installing access points outside the building, cost about $5,000.
T.J. Morrison, community and economic development director at Boyd County Fiscal Court, said the center’s expanded internet access didn’t cost the fiscal court anything.
“The building has been self-sufficient since Chaney took office by lowering the prices on the building, so we were able to rent it,” he said. “In addition, because of the $25,000 naming rights King’s Daughters Medical Center purchased, we had money set aside for these kinds of upgrades.”
Pruitt was well aware of the need.
“My mom (Tammy Pruitt) was on the school board and we talked a little,” he said of the need for better internet access in the county, noting he also has friends and family who live in areas where phone and internet service are poor, if existent.
“We had to do some inside work for the cabling, ordered some more internet ports to hook into the server, and it’s on a timer,” Pruitt said.
Download speed will vary between 100 and 300 megabytes, depending on where the user is working; the closer to the building, the better. “We do a lot of live-streaming inside the building, and it’s pretty strong outside as well,” Pruitt said.
With uncertainty about school schedules, Pruitt said the center is staying flexible about its offerings.
“We’ve talked to the school superintendent and we’ve discussed doing study halls in the evening,” he said. “If schools decide to go back early, great, or if they wait, we might be able to offer this. We don’t know what schools will look like for the next year or so.” In fact, he said, it’s possible as the weather grows cold, the center will open certain hours, allowing students to come inside to use the internet.
This isn’t just for Boyd County students, though. “If students who live out here and go to Ashland to school, it’s an option and it’s an option for anyone to come and work here,” he said.
Chaney agrees. “We’re all Boyd County, whether it’s Ashland, Catlettsburg, Fairview,” he said. “We’re all on one team and anybody who needs to use the facility, that’s what it’s there for.”
Regardless of what happens with school, the access points will remain, Pruitt said.
“This is a permanent thing,” he said. “We’ve been growing as a facility and we have outdoor events coming up.”
In fact, Pruitt said he hopes this is just a first step. He said the state organization Kentucky Wired continues to try to bring broadband internet to rural areas in the state like southern Boyd County.
“I’m hoping this is a first step to something even bigger with broadband in the areas that need it,” he said.
Chaney said he thinks it’s a great project, and one that falls to local government.
“Anything local government is where rubber hits the road,” he said. “This is our way of saying we’re going to help in any way we possibly can.”
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