Circumference Group of Little Rock announced Tuesday it is investing to take majority ownership of Conway-based The Computer Works to support the broadband provider's growth across Arkansas.
Financial details were not disclosed. Circumference founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Fox said Tuesday efforts will focus on supporting The Computer Works' broadband expansion to Arkansas communities.
"The business is already growing and our goal is to help them keep growing it and make it a service provider for a lot more customers," Fox said. "Broadband is strategically important in rural communities and we want to be a difference maker."
Circumference is an investment firm that also provides expertise to enhance operational efforts in businesses that draw its investments. The company will work to enhance The Computer Works' operations and upgrade its automation and technology services to enable continued expansion.
"They've done a great job with the business and there are just some areas that we can help tune up carefully," Fox said. "We want to help them continue to grow efficiently and provide a great service to Arkansas customers."
The Computer Works was founded in 1989 to provide networking and computer services to businesses and eventually expanded into offering digital subscriber lines (DSL) for customers. In 2016, the company began laying fiber and focusing on expanding high-speed internet to rural communities.
Today it offers broadband to residential and business customers in Arkansas, Conway, Cleburn, Faulkner, Searcy, Stone and Van Buren counties. "Our main focus has been in rural areas and we want to continue to expand with fiber to those communities," President Pat Wilson said Tuesday.
"Circumference will help us expand and they bring experience in all areas of broadband," Wilson added. "Circumference was the perfect partner for us -- they are very committed to Arkansas."
Circumference's investment comes at a critical time in the broadband industry.
Broadband expansion became a key economic development and educational initiative during the pandemic, as more workers staying home required high-speed internet service and broadband also was essential to support students in keeping up with lessons as schools closed during the height of the covid-19 spread.
Last year, Congress approved spending $65 billion on broadband expansion across the nation as part of President Biden's infrastructure investment bill. Another $25 billion has been allocated through the American Rescue Plan. "Affordable, high-speed internet connects Americans to critical services and expands economic opportunities to every community," the administration said in announcing the funding, which is provided to Arkansas and other states based on need.
In Arkansas, the state's Rural Connect program has invested $368 million to expand broadband to more than 109,000 homes.
The Computer Works received $11 million through the state program, including grants to boost expansion in Cleburne, Conway and Faulkner counties. Arkansas Rural Connect has provided The Computer Works with about $2.25 million to expand fixed wireless and another $8.7 million to accelerate fiber deployments, according to state records.
"That funding has been very helpful in expanding broadband around Conway and other areas," Wilson said.
The companies announced Tuesday that Wilson will continue as president of The Computer Works and the company headquarters will remain in Conway.
In April, a report from the Broadband Development Group estimated the cost of extending broadband access to about 110,000 homes in Arkansas without high-speed internet would cost $550 million and reduce the number of remaining underserved households down to about 10,000 within three years. The group was hired by the state to assess broadband needs and better target delivery of services.