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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Investing in digital

February 17, 2021 at 3:46 a.m.

There's little doubt the future is digital as more activity moves online. Shopping, paying bills, stock trading; it's all in ones and zeroes. And having high-speed access to those ones and zeroes is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity.

Fortunately, one Arkansas city just announced that future is within its grasp.

"Six years ago, Clarksville's leaders invested $1.25 million of reserve funds to install a fiber optic network to connect city-owned electric, water and wastewater utilities. Clarksville has invested nearly $11 million, including money from a bond issue, to build a fiber infrastructure that can deliver super-fast Internet--up to 10 gigabits per second if required--to homes, businesses, schools and hospitals. The Johnson County community boasts it is Arkansas' First 2 Gig City on a billboard posted near the Interstate 40 exit that leads to the city," the papers say.

You typically need to bury cable or attach it to power poles to have a fiber network that'll bring fast Internet where it's needed. And if corporations like Cox or Comcast or AT&T are thinking about investing the significant chunk of change it takes to bring said network to tiny towns like Jasper, Ark., which are well off the beaten path, they need to see enough paying customers to make a profit from the investment.

It's easy for an Internet service provider to look at investments in Fayetteville or Little Rock and think: sure. There's enough population density and residents who need Internet to pay for upgrades. But in a town of less than 1,000 people, how does a large corporation find enough customers to profit from burying cable?

Clarksville's city leaders looked to the future and knew schools and homes would need access to fast Internet to keep up with education and a growing digital economy. There's no telling how many entrepreneurs there are in Clarksville just waiting for the right bridge to connect them to the digital world.

The pandemic has shown us how vital digital infrastructure can be, particularly with students who still need access to a steady curriculum even if their school is closed due to covid-19 (or winter weather). A steady and affordable broadband connection allows them to stay connected in video chats with teachers. It allows them to hook up with other students for group projects and make sure their education doesn't fall behind.

Beyond that, it gives more employees the ability to work from home, maybe even with a job from another city or state.

Good on Clarksville for being forward-thinking when it comes to a digital future. Hopefully other Arkansas towns will follow in its footsteps along the trail of ones and zeroes.

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