By Jacob Mulliken Messenger-InquirerDec 31, 2020

Green River Area Development District officials have high hopes that their burgeoning partnership with Ohio-based Watch Communications will bolster their ConnectGRADD internet service initiative.

ConnectGRADD, which began in 2007, is a partnership between WATCH Communications and GRADD that provides internet services to the rural areas to GRADD’s original seven counties of Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Union and Webster, and its newest member, Hopkins County.

One major hope is that the new partnership with WATCH will strengthen internet speeds as well as the initiative’s reach, said Al Mattingly, Daviess Fiscal Court judge-executive and chairman of the ConnectGRADD board of directors.

“WATCH has a larger customer base and several systems that they operate in other states,” he said. “Our hope is that they will be able to aid us in our efforts to market the system as well as increase internet speed. With this new partnership and the continued support of ConnectGRADD’s eight member counties, our hope is that we will be able to continue to improve upon this vital service for our rural citizens that are often completely left out or last to be served by for-profit providers.”

WATCH Communications is a broadband service provider and subsidiary of Benton Ridge Telephone, an Ohio corporation founded in 1902 to provide telephone services in rural Ohio communities. Over time, BRT began offering broadband services in these same communities by using fiber, wireless and other technologies. WATCH Communications was founded in 1992 to extend broadband services to new areas and to take advantage of new technologies that continue to come online. WATCH Communications provides broadband, telephone and video solutions in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

WATCH announced its acquisition of longtime ConnectGRADD partner Q Wireless in early 2020. The acquisition strengthened WATCH’s foothold in western Kentucky and southeastern Indiana, said Chris Daniels, WATCH Communications president and CEO, in a February interview with businesswire.com.

“WATCH Communications will build on the strong foundation created by Q Wireless to provide high-quality, reliable internet services to residents in rural communities,” he said. “We welcome Q Wireless customers into the WATCH family and are pleased to have the experience and knowledge of Q’s team in our company. We are committed to launching new services in the under and unserved areas of western Kentucky and southeastern Indiana and to offering exciting improvements and higher speed offerings as they become available to current customers.”

While ConnectGRADD has been met with some consternation from members since its launch in 2007, primarily due to the introduction of entertainment-based streaming services that require massive internet speeds, the initiative has steadily been improved and is a matter of pride for GRADD, especially given the innovation of the initiative in the beginning, said Joanna Shake, GRADD executive director.

When the leadership of GRADD’s seven counties developed the initiative, they opted to collectively invest $1.2 million in coal severance dollars to supplement a $1.1 million loan from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, the first loan of its kind from the KIA, which had traditionally only focused on water and sewers, said Shake.

“It really was a solid plan and quite brilliant in regard to how the seven counties came together to create it,” she said. “A major challenge that we have faced is the capital needed to invest in new equipment to meet the growing expectations of our customers. With the recourses and knowledge of WATCH Communications and the continuity with Phil Lambert and Joey Randolph (formerly of Q Wireless) staying on board, our customers will only benefit.

“Without ConnectGRADD there would be many people that would not have internet, which is a vital service, especially now,” she said. “I am proud of the work that has been done and am excited by the potential of our partnership with WATCH Communications.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com