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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson is shown in this file photo.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday set a goal of expanding access to high-speed broadband Internet to all communities in the state with more than 500 people by 2022, calling for vast increases in Internet speed and connections for a state that ranks last in access to the Web.

The governor's State Broadband Plan, which does not call for a new commitment of state funds, instead relies on the expectation that large amounts of federal funds will be made available for Internet service providers to build networks and run wires into rural areas that now lack broadband access.

A 77-page report released Wednesday by the governor's office pointed to a trio of new laws passed by the Legislature earlier this year as influential in the deployment of broadband services. Among those laws was Act 198 of 2019, which ended the prohibition on government entities providing broadband services on their own or through a partnership with a private company.

No other new legislation is expected to be put forward to carry out the plan, a spokesman for the governor said.

"Broadband has become so essential to the modern American way of life that government can't be indifferent when people lack access to it," the introduction to the governor's plan states.

Arkansas ranks last among states in access to wired broadband, according to the website BroadbandNow.com. While 92% of Americans as a whole have access to wired broadband, only about 75% of Arkansans have similar access.

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Arkansas state broadband plan

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The Federal Communications Commission's standard for minimum broadband speeds is 25 megabits per second for downloads, and 3 Mbps for uploads. That's fast enough to download a song in a second, or a two-hour movie in about 10 minutes.

Maps created by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority's Economic Policy Division show that access to broadband is especially sparse in towns throughout the Arkansas Delta, Ozark Mountains and the southern timberlands. The governor's report also found that "substantial" parts of some urban areas, such as Little Rock and West Memphis, lack access to high-speed Internet.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor, said that by simply adopting a statewide plan, Internet service providers operating in Arkansas can score higher in their grant applications with the federal government.

"We want them to be able to have access to as much federal funding as possible," Davis said. "It's definitely a public-private partnership."

The governor's report pointed to investments in rural broadband being made by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the anticipation of a 10-year, $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that has been proposed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. The fund has yet to be approved by the full commission. The report also calls for management of state-owned assets, such as utility towers and rights of way, to encourage their use by private companies in the expansion of broadband networks.

Elizabeth Bowles, the CEO of Little Rock wireless Internet service provider Aristotle Inc., described a lack of usable available infrastructure, such as poles on which to hang wire, and the distance between rural customers as a cost barrier to traditional Internet service providers expanding to rural areas. Without high-speed Internet, customers end up moving out of those communities, creating a "vicious cycle," Bowles said.

Bowles also serves as chairman of the FCC's Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which has produced its own policy recommendations that were cited in the governor's report. Bowles said she provided feedback for the report before its release.

"Overall, this plan is an excellent start for removing barriers and encouraging broadband throughout the state," Bowles said. She added, "There's no reason for Arkansas to be 50th."

Other stakeholders that provided input for the report included AT&T, Cox, CenturyLink and Windstream, as well as several public agencies.

In a statement Wednesday, AT&T Arkansas President Ronnie Dedman said the company is still reviewing the plan, but "is supportive of rural broadband deployment and educational efforts about the benefits of broadband that can encourage greater adoption of high speed connections."

While the governor's plan does not specify how it plans to identify "population centers" of more than 500 people -- or whether those communities must be incorporated -- Davis said the effect of the plan will likely extend beyond small towns.

"If there's a smaller community [outside of town], they're going to be able to tap in as well because of the new lines that are being run out there," he said.

According to the report, 641,000 Arkansans did not have access to wired Internet capable of broadband speeds, despite 136 Internet service providers operating in the state, which has a population of about 3 million. There are 721,000 Arkansans who have access to a single wired Internet service provider, according to the report.

The governor had made Internet connectivity in schools a priority during his first term in office. Hutchinson began his second four-year term in January.

A Section on 05/16/2019

Print Headline: Governor sets '22 goal for broadband in state

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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    May 16, 2019 at 6:08 a.m.

    "Among those laws was Act 198 of 2019, which ended the prohibition on government entities providing broadband services on their own or through a partnership with a private company." This has been a stumbling block in the past for some communities who could have partnered with a company to provide the services, but were prevented by this regulation that was put in place through lobbying of AT&T and other cable carriers.
    ...
    What we did in San Antonio to get around the regulation for public entities, which also exists in Texas, was to allow any entity with a publicly elected governing body the right to ride dark fiber owned by City Public Service, the city's public utility company. That not only gave them access to extremely high speed networks between their campuses, but through cooperative arrangement the ability the interconnect with other entities such as the University of Texas.
    ...
    Hopefully, this will help bring broadband at affordable rates to many rural areas of Arkansas. Now, there must be limitations, one of which being the population requirements specified. But there is no reason those in rural areas be denied access to broadband connectivity.

  • Trapezist
    May 16, 2019 at 6:54 a.m.

    The telecoms have already been paid $400 billion to deliver nationwide broadband by 2014. These companies owe the US taxpayers a refund for failing to deliver these services on time.

  • Morebeer
    May 16, 2019 at 9:23 a.m.

    Why not let the free market solve this problem. I have a friend who lives in Pulaski County rural and has no broadband to connect to. He knew this when he bought his house. If you want to live in a small town that lacks certain amenities but is also free of lightly parented but heavily armed teenage gang bangers, that’s your business. Let the free market reign. State and federal subsidies will just distort it.

  • mrcharles
    May 16, 2019 at 10:46 a.m.

    We should let the free market rule. If we want no inspection of meats to save a buck, lets do it, anyway highways got to many people interfering with my driving as an old man. I want to save some money so I will provide my own fire and police protection and should get a tax rebate.

    Mostly I worry that with this idea we may turn into a west or east coast type state. Being educated and aware of true facts can make our children question our old time religion. What was good enough for jonah is good enough for me. Who needs broadband when you got that there bible to depend on, and if I can just find mine I will read it says the average arkansas voter.

    ASA you rhino, science and common sense is not needed but a monument in every school is what we really need. Besides broadband might be used by illegal aliens or muslims or heretical christians, and we know god might punish us for that indiscretion.

    Oh I want to get rid of tornado warning sirens, private companies can notify you if a tornado is near. but who cares anyway as the results of who lives or dies is not our will but hers.

    also I dont want miliary protection . knowing that I will accept dealing with putin and DT when they come to get me for questioning their divine right to use government to get rich.

  • MBAIV
    May 16, 2019 at 11:45 a.m.

    Good rant MrCharles. BTW -- ALL of our schools have broadband provided through the APSCN network. Most libraries, health units and many other entities do, too. It is individual households who don't have it. Heck -- I live well within LR and at&t can't offer me any more than 3MB download speeds. They decided to save money and skip many areas.
    .
    The rural areas will be decades away for 5G -- but a good 4G-LTE signal may well turn out to be the best way to spread broadband. And -- it'll be FREE soon (per the Blue Kool-aid crowd).

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    May 16, 2019 at 3:28 p.m.

    Thank you Governor.

  • Morebeer
    May 16, 2019 at 8:02 p.m.

    Mr Chuck, give the rubes fast internet and they’ll just watch porn all day and neglect the garden, the chickens and the wife. I’m serious, though I was trying to be ironic earlier. It’s so unlike Republicans to turn to the public sector for a service. Usually, they want to privatize everything.

  • MaxCady
    May 16, 2019 at 10:52 p.m.

    At one time the internet was touted as the world's largest reference library, the information super highway they called it. Why has it only made people dumber?? It's all commerce and social media.

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