Broadband’s “Last Place” State Plans For Change

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For the state that ranks number 50 in broadband access, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has set a goal of expanding access to communities with more than 500 people by 2022, reported the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A report released by the governor’s office this week noted that 641,000 out of 3 million Arkansans do not have access to wired internet capable of broadband speeds, despite 136 internet service providers (ISPs) operating in the state.

The governor’s State Broadband Plan will rely mainly on federal funds — from the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — made available for ISPs to build networks in all areas, including rural ones. By adopting a statewide plan, ISPs should have more access to grant money.

“We want them to be able to have access to as much federal funding as possible,” J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor, said. “It’s definitely a public-private partnership.”

Legislature passed earlier this year is enabling the deployment of broadband services; however, no new legislation is expected to be put forward to carry out the plan, a spokesman for the governor said.

Maps created by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority’s Economic Policy Division show that access to broadband is unusually sparse in towns throughout the Arkansas Delta, Ozark Mountains, and the southern timberlands. In urban areas such as Little Rock and West Memphis, a “substantial” lack of access to broadband also exists, reported the Democrat-Gazette.

According to Elizabeth Bowles, CEO of Little Rock wireless ISP Aristotle Inc., “Overall, this plan is an excellent start for removing barriers and encouraging broadband throughout the state. There’s no reason for Arkansas to be 50th.”

May 20, 2019

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