LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – On Monday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson released key findings and recommendations of a state broadband report.
The report comes from consultant firm Broadband Development Group, which was hired in October of 2021 to develop a comprehensive plan for addressing the availability of broadband service across Arkansas.
According to the findings from BDG, Arkansas currently has 210,000 households that are underserved. However, 100,000 of these are covered by a federal grant as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
Due to the federal rules associated with this grant, the state cannot fund grants to these areas. But Arkansas can address the gap in service of the remaining 110,000 households.
Hutchinson expressed his thoughts on the recommendations from the Broadband Development Group and discussed the progression of broadband in Arkansas.
“We’ve already made significant progress with an aggressive approach to getting broadband deployed to rural areas of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “I’m appreciative of the thorough report and recommendations of BDG, and I am particularly grateful for the partnership with the Arkansas General Assembly in getting ahead of the curve with an early start to deploying rural broadband. I look forward to expedited progress as we put into operation the recommendations and continue our partnership.”
The state anticipates future funding for broadband through the Coronavirus Capital Project Fund, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and a second installment of Arkansas Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) this summer.
The State Broadband office was created by Governor Hutchinson in July 2019 and has awarded $386 million in grants through the Arkansas Rural Connect grant program.
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston noted that a plan is in process to help the underserved communities in Arkansas.
“We now have a roadmap and a detailed plan to fill the remaining gaps of the underserved areas of our state. We look forward to continuing to partner with Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), electric cooperatives, the legislature, and other key stakeholders, taking recommendations from this plan and updating the broadband rules.”
The report addresses the key deliverables required by the contract: assessing available broadband assets in the state; mapping out where the broadband gap exists in the state; calculating the budget needed to bridge the gap; and recommending improvements to the ARC grant program.
The Arkansas Department of Commerce plans to convene stakeholders next month to discuss the report and seek community feedback. The full report and executive summary can be found here.