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State Announces Plan to Expand Broadband Access in Under-Served Areas

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LITTLE ROCK – The goal of the new Arkansas State Broadband Plan, announced by the governor, is to make high-speed Internet access available to all communities of more than 500 people by the year 2022.

The announcement specifically cites three Senate bills that have become law and have streamlined the process of setting up communications technology in under-served areas.

The Arkansas plan uses the standard for high speed Internet as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. That means your Internet connection is capable of downloading 25 megabits per second and uploading three megabits per second.

The plan will benefit many residents of urban areas, as well as those in rural areas. In many Arkansas towns there are neighborhoods lacking access to high speed broadband. But other neighborhoods do have high speed access, so a map can be deceptive because it would indicate that the entire town has a capability of 25 mbps/3mbps.

According to the announcement, about 251,000 people in Arkansas live in areas with no Internet access. About 641,000 Arkansas residents have Internet access, but not high speed Internet.

About 721,000 have access to only one Internet provider, so they cannot switch to another company if they are unsatisfied with their quality of service. Now, there are 136 companies providing Internet service in Arkansas.

During this year’s regular session, the legislature approved two new acts to promote expansion of broadband in areas that are lacking. Act 198 of 2019 allows local governments to get involved in the creation of new Internet service. In partnership with private companies, local entities can apply for federal funding, loans and grants.

Act 999 of 2019 promotes the growth of wireless and communications technology through new products such as 5G technology. Its goal is the building of new small cells and the antennas needed to make them work. Act 999 allows government entities to make agreements with private companies to use public rights-of-way for those facilities.

Also mentioned in the announcement was Act 813 of 2017, which allows for the creation of public-private partnerships. The partnerships are not limited to computer and communications projects. They can be for new facilities at schools, prisons, recreation centers, utilities, water and sewer systems, hospitals and libraries.

Expanding broadband access throughout Arkansas is important for many reasons. It will improve health care, by making transmittal of medical records faster and by allowing more video-conferencing. It will improve all aspects of education. It will promote economic development, and make opportunity more nearly equal in all geographic areas of the state.

It will prepare us for the next era, when broadband technology will allow transmission of even greater amounts of data than is possible now.

Except for the most visionary among us, the current standard of 25 mbps would have seemed unthinkable in the 1990s, when it was necessary in many households to unplug the telephone to access the Internet. The telephone would have been a “landline” and many consumers referred to the Internet as the “World Wide Web.”

The new Broadband Plan recognizes that Internet service in America has become like electricity and running water, in that now it is so essential that government assumes the responsibility of helping to make it available where the private sector cannot afford to.

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