Pine Bluff Cable TV and Ritter Communications have received millions of dollars in Arkansas Rural Connection Grants to expand fiber broadband service in areas within Jefferson County, according to company officials.
According to Laurie Ringler-Harrison of WEHCO Video Inc. -- which along with Pine Bluff Cable TV and the Pine Bluff Commercial is part of the WEHCO Media family of companies -- Pine Bluff Cable TV was awarded $5,261,587 to expand its broadband service to four outlying areas of Pine Bluff, including Sulphur Springs, Pinebergen, East Pine Bluff and Island Harbor. The Sulphur Springs project is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, while the other three projects are scheduled for completion in 2023.
Jonesboro-based Ritter said in a news release earlier this week it was awarded eight ARC grants, with two of them going to projects in northwest and northeast Jefferson County. The northwest project grant is for $11,305,061 and will impact communities along U.S. 65 and U.S. 270. The northeast project grant is for $4,263,828 and will serve communities along U.S. 79 north of Pine Bluff, including Altheimer and Wabbaseka.
The grants are funded by the American Rescue Plan.
"We were pleased to partner with local Arkansas communities to jointly apply for these grants, and we appreciate the confidence the State of Arkansas has placed in us to bring these projects to fruition," Ritter CEO Alan Morse said in a news release. "We are eager to help these communities and the State bridge the digital divide and bring state-of-the-art broadband services to business and residents there."
News of the grants came as Arkansas Broadband Now is wrapping up a study on the availability of broadband service across the state. The research firm conducted a virtual town hall for Pine Bluff residents Thursday, some of whom complained they've had difficulty receiving reliable service in the city.
The goal of the research is for Arkansas Broadband Now to deliver a report detailing the most recent accurate data of well-served, underserved and unserved internet areas and develop a five-year strategic plan for improving the infrastructure to Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston by the first week in April. Cynthia Anderson, chief of staff for Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, said the city plans to apply for as many grants as possible to improve internet service.