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Study shows Arkansas is behind on broadband internet accessibility

Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 5:25 PM CDT
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - The Arkansas Broadband Development group says 210,000 households do not have broadband access.

The group released its findings Monday after a six-month-long study. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission paid for the study. According to Statistica, Arkansas ranks 48th among states in broadband accessibility.

“We knew that there were parts of our state that were un-served or under-served, and we wanted to do more about it,” said Mike Preston, Arkansas Secretary of Commerce. “So we started really leaning forward on what we as a state could do.”

Preston says that the pandemic showed high-speed internet access is just as necessary as electricity or running water 150 years ago.

”2020 and the pandemic hits, and we realized how vital broadband accessibility is when people had to begin working remotely, going to school remotely, telemedicine, and all the things people had to do during the pandemic,” he said.

Of the 210,000 households, more than half of their communities do not receive federal grants to pay for access—one of the most concentrated areas being in north-central Arkansas.

”We wanted to make sure we had the most accurate maps but then also a road map of the areas that are under-served, what is it going to take to get this done,” said Preston. “Then go back to our legislative partners with a plan, course of action about how do we do this.”

Work is happening. About $300 million in Cares Funds and American Rescue Funds will connect more than 100,000 Arkansans. Plus, it will quadruple average download speeds. It’s just a matter of making sure even the most challenging places reach broadband.

”Some of the topography, some of the mountainous areas that we’re trying to lay fiber through is just difficult,” said Preston. “Then the sheer remoteness of some people who are on the last to be served, on that last mile if you will, of broadband service.”

The study also estimated it might cost as much as $550 million to provide broadband internet to the entire state.

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