AAPB Opposes Bill Forcing Kentucky Utility to Divest Telecommunications Unit

The bill would give Frankfort a deadline of Dec. 31, 2024 to either transfer or sell the utility’s public projects.

AAPB Opposes Bill Forcing Kentucky Utility to Divest Telecommunications Unit
Photo of Gigi Sohn by Joel Sag

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2024 – The American Association for Public Broadband sent a Tuesday letter to the Kentucky General Assembly opposing legislation that would force the city of Frankfort’s municipal utility to sell or transfer its telecommunications business to a private entity. 

The bill, proposed by State Senator Gex Williams, would give the Frankfort City Commission a deadline of Dec. 31, 2024.

By that date, it must vote to either transfer the utility’s public projects to the city or sell it. 

The Frankfort Plant Board provides cable, landline, and broadband services to 65 percent of the city’s 28,000 residents.

The bill carries additional provisions that would mandate FPB to seek approval from the city commission for various expenses, and grant control over surplus revenues to the commission. 

It also imposes an obligation on FPB to make payments in lieu of taxes to the city, school districts, and counties, a requirement that was optional in the past.

In a published op-ed circulating locally, Sen. Williams claimed that the FPB is “struggling to keep up” despite receiving millions of dollars of federal and state assistance. 

The utility received $8 million from the state to build out fiber optic internet connections to 884 homes, but otherwise has been investing millions to build out its broadband offerings.

In the same article, Sen. Williams noted that FPB internet is “a significant asset”, but calls for divesting it to channel resources into developing the town’s riverfront into an enticing tourist destination.

AAPB reacts

In a statement made Tuesday, AAPB’s Executive Director Gigi Sohn suggests the situation is similar to an occurrence in Utah, where a campaign was launched against the quasi-governmental telecommunications provider UTOPIA Fiber by the state’s former House Speaker Greg Hughes.

“The attack on the highly successful and immensely popular Frankfort Plant Board is just the latest in a series of recent dark money efforts to slow the inevitable march toward communities owning their broadband futures,” states Sohn, citing similar campaigns launched against successful municipal networks in Michigan and Massachusetts. 

Nationwide, dark money campaigns often suspected to be funded by incumbent service providers have been emerging, seemingly to sway local officials and residents against municipal broadband initiatives. In response, the AAPB is issuing alerts to highlight misinformation that it believes is fueling these campaigns. 

The city of Frankfort contends that if the legislation is enacted, it could result in increased costs for power, water, and telecommunications services, potential job losses, and a decline in the quality of the network and customer service.

The FPB has been a provider of telecommunications services in Frankfort for more than 70 years, since the utility first began distributing television services in 1952. 

The municipal utility has remained at the forefront of technology, developing a full-service network in the late 1990s, followed by an all-digital video network in 2009 and a fiber-to-the-home broadband network in 2021.

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