This week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a new $25 million grant program within the Arkansas State Broadband Office. The goal is to provide high-speed broadband to rural communities throughout Arkansas by 2022.
The “Arkansas Rural Connect” program will provide grants to qualifying communities of at least 500 people. The high-speed broadband must have a rate of at least 25 mbps download and 3 mbps for upload.
“The long-term success of our economy will be determined by the resources our entrepreneurs have access to, and high-speed broadband is at the top of that list,” said Governor Hutchinson. The governor will ask the state legislature to approve the $25 million. The Arkansas Legislative Council is able to approve $5.7 million this year, and the balance will need to be appropriated in next year’s fiscal session.
“One of the first infrastructure questions potential economic development prospects ask is regarding the speed of information across the state,” said Commerce Secretary Mike Preston. “As we build out the system with help from funding through the Arkansas Rural Connect program, individuals, schools and companies will benefit and create a new environment for learning and commerce.”
Detailed rules for the ARC grant program will be developed in consultation with stakeholders. The state seeks to prioritize applications that:
- Partner with an Internet Service Provider to deploy broadband at 25/3 speeds to all residents of a community.
- Share project costs and/or provide project facilitation by procuring rights-of-way for wireline deployments.
- Have a population of at least 500 with less than 50 percent of the population covered by broadband speeds of 25/3.
- Do not constrain normal internet use.
While the Governor’s goal and the Arkansas Rural Connect grant focus on cities and towns, the State Broadband Office will also seek to promote broadband connectivity in rural areas and throughout the state. Federal grants and loans from federal agencies like the FCC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Commerce are available to fund broadband deployment. The State Broadband Office will seek to educate local leaders and to be a resource for towns, cities, and ISPs looking for funding from these federal programs.
August 8, 2019