Behind the Rural Arkansas Broadband Deployment Plan


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arkansas-county-mapThree telecom companies are receiving a total of more than $322 million over the next six years to deploy high-speed internet access to more than half of Arkansas’ residents who don’t have this service now. AT&T is using the funding to connect customers wirelessly, using existing cell towers and antennas.  

The company also plans to install new equipment so the new internet offering will operate independently of its cell service, according to AT&T Arkansas President Ed Drilling. The first online connections are slated to be operational in mid-2017. They’re to be part of a bundle offered with DirecTV, which the carrier bought last year.

AT&T is getting $21.2 million a year from the FCC to connect 51,400+ homes and businesses. CenturyLink will receive $19.3 million and Windstream $13.2 million a year to enable 44,800 and 32,300 connections respectively. CenturyLink and Windstream plan to use wired connections, according to ArkansasOnline

Not everyone is happy about the grants from the FCC’s Connect America program, including companies already providing wireless internet in Arkansas. “We are small business that do not need federal handouts to deploy networks,” said Aristotle President/Chair Elizabeth Bowles; she’s also former president of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. 

The grant funding goes to telephone carriers. In northeast Arkansas, Hillbilly Wireless is concerned about AT&T’s expansion. “We’ve applied for grants and funding, and we would never get it. It went to the bigger guys,” company network engineer Mike Schreiner tells ArkansasOnline. “We’ve had to go at our own pace on our own dime.”

November 29, 2016

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