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U.S. Treasury OKs Arkansas' plan to invest $47.5M of federal funds in broadband projects

by Michael R. Wickline | August 30, 2022 at 1:11 p.m.
Cables connecting phone, cable and Internet service come out of a wall connector in the home office of Mike Loucks of Friday Harbor, Wash., in this March 2015 file photo.

The U.S. Treasury Department has approved Arkansas' plan to invest $47.5 million of the federal American Rescue Plan's coronavirus capital project funds to serve an estimated 5,500 homes and businesses through the state's Rural Connect broadband program, the department announced on Tuesday.

The other latest states to obtain the U.S. Treasury's approval of its plans include Connecticut, Indiana, Nebraska, and North Dakota, the department said.

The five states have been approved to collectively receive about $408 million under the federal American Rescue Plan to connect more than 90,000 homes and businesses to affordable high-speed internet, according to the U.S. Treasury.

Arkansas Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said Tuesday in a written statement that “[t]he $47.5 million approved for Arkansas will go a long way in helping us achieve our goals of connecting Arkansans to the internet.

“If we want to reach our full potential, we need to utilize all available resources to close the digital divide," he said. "As a rural state, we have two challenges. The first is building the infrastructure in areas where there are fewer people and businesses. The second is making the service affordable once that infrastructure is built. The 5,500 homes and businesses that will benefit most from these funds will see doors opened. We will be better able to improve educational outcomes to our most vulnerable schoolchildren as well as provide our small businesses with the ability to perform routine daily operations and reach more customers.”

Arkansas’ plan to invest the $47.5 million in federal coronavirus capital project funds is part of the state's allocation of $158 million under the American Rescue Plan for capital projects, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

The 15-member steering committee, appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson last year to make recommendations on the use of $1.57 billion in State Fiscal Recovery Funds under the American Rescue Plan and $158 million in capital project funds under the American Rescue Plan, is the next hurdle for the $47.5 million proposal, Hardin said. The Legislature also must grant spending authority before the federal funds can be spent.

In April, a broadband consultant, Broadband Development Group, said Arkansas will need about $550 million to extend broadband access to households throughout the state still without high-speed broadband.

The report concluded that Arkansas has 251,000 households lacking adequate broadband access, meaning those with internet speeds less than 100 megabits per second.

At that time, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state anticipates future funding through the federal coronavirus capital project funds, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act fund, and a second installment of Arkansas American Rescue Plan Act funds that the state received this summer.

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