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STATE LIKE Arkansas with plenty of rural spaces, has its advantages. There are beautiful areas for hunting, hiking and fishing. Try camping near Mena. Or boating near Prescott. But such wide-open stretches, such beauty, such an escape only minutes away, comes with certain technical disadvantages. Such as, they tell us, broadband rollout.

If you live in Little Rock or Fayetteville, high-speed Internet access probably isn't a problem. But move to Kingston, and you may find a different situation. In a world where high-speed Internet brings commerce and jobs, 2019 would be a great year to expand broadband in Arkansas.

Expanding broadband can be considered efficient government, too. Bring a factory to town and a mayor might produce jobs for his community, sure. But bringing broadband to town can also produce jobs, and it's easier to expand a network than it is to bring in a factory. With a decent online connection, someone can work from home in fields such as customer service, tutoring, data entry and more.

Local businesses also benefit from expanded broadband, allowing mom-and-pop shops (and not just mom-and-pop shops) to find new customers online and local restaurants to offer new services such as online ordering or food delivery.

If you're hot for the latest page-turner coming off the presses, try the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report from the Federal Communications Commission. Hoo-doggie. It shows broadband rollout lagging in rural parts, with 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million others on tribal lands still lacking mobile LTE broadband at speeds of 10 megabits per second. Now, we don't understand what any of that means, except that if you want to buy tickets to the concert ahead of time, it's probably easier to do it in the city. And it shouldn't be.

To his credit, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has done a great job making sure our schools have decent Internet access. A report released earlier this year found students in 98 percent of Arkansas' school districts have access to Internet speeds of 1 megabit per second--or what the experts call "good." This unlocks new teaching tools, with tutoring and distance learning now available to students, in addition to giving kids access to online testing and more.

The next step is making sure every Arkansas home has the ability to buy high-speed Internet. It's about more than just being able to get on Facebook. High-speed Internet access is always a sound investment. Let's get our Arkansas Economic Development Commission together with AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Suddenlink and other providers that are willing to bring their products to rural areas.

If broadband isn't available in a rural town, customers who want to get online are forced to rely on dial-up or satellite Internet, neither of which are good options because of low speed, bandwidth limits and accursed data caps, which are accursed because we're told they are. But even Luddites like us can figure out that broadband is the superior option.

Others in our state are looking at their own solutions to expand rural broadband, like Ozarks Electric Cooperative in northwest Arkansas. It, and a few other electric cooperatives are working to expand fiber Internet to customers across their service areas. First they provided electricity, and now they're bringing high-speed Internet.

Another option is getting broadband Internet from cell towers. The infrastructure is certainly there, but you run into unique problems. Some parts of Arkansas just don't get good signals. Ask wireless customers in Nevada County if they've ever had a dropped call, let alone spotty data connections. Wireless is clearly a more cost-effective way to serve low-density rural areas than wired connections.

New 5G wireless technology looks promising. But it has yet to hit America beyond a few cities in 2018. And that probably will be concentrated in urban areas and really doesn't help rural customers scattered across this state.

Microsoft has pledged to bring broadband to 3 million unserved people in rural communities by July 4, 2022. That's an amazing commitment, but the rest of us, especially in government, need to spur other tech and telecommunications companies to do the same.

Broadband is only going to become more important to our economy, finances and employment in the future. And our elected leaders would be well advised to make sure rural communities aren't left behind in Internet rollout. Broadband can put workers in the Delta and southern parts of Arkansas on even footing with their counterparts in metro areas.

So what's stopping us? And if anything does, we'll just get the kids to explain it.

Editorial on 12/30/2018

Print Headline: More broadband needed

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  • RBear
    December 30, 2018 at 7:40 a.m.

    Thank you for posting this editorial, D-G. I completely agree and hope legislators and state leaders in both government and business pay heed to this call. Our state has great opportunity to give residents of the state the ability to do more than just watch cat videos, especially the students of the state. If broadband became widespread, anyone could learn through any of the great resources available through training courses in coding, mathematics, electronics, basically any number of disciplines.
    ...
    Our state lead the nation by offering computer coding to every student in the state in their public schools with an increase of 30% this past year in students enrolled in the programs. Now we need to do more and focus on providing those students with more than sub-standard dial-up. Any offering should also be affordable and not a major expense in the home. This is not the time to price gouge Arkansans to provide this service. Find ways to fund the infrastructure that doesn't put a burden on the citizens.

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