SALEM, Ark. - It's the NEXT greatest thing since electricity for people who live in rural areas of northern Arkansas: internet access.
Mel Coleman, the CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, said,
"We just want our members who live in the rural areas to have the same quality of life as people who live in the cities. And that's what we're going to do with our broadband initiative."
The North Arkansas Electric Cooperative is working to make sure all of their customers can get dependable access to internet, along with tv and phone services.
The co-op is already providing the services to about 800 subscribers in parts of Fulton and Baxter Counties, and they're working hard to expand.
Coleman said, "Starting January 1st we are off and rolling on this project. We anticipate about 800 miles to be rolled out next year of about 4,000 miles left to do."
Leaders at NAEC said the feedback so far has been positive.
Jason Strong, the VP of engineering at NAEC, said, "The majority of the people have some type of connection but usually it's very slow. They might be coming from a 1 mbps or less speed on the internet. And when we come in we might get them 100 mbps up and down speed. And it's drastically different than what they're used to."
And not only do they bring that access to homes, but also businesses.
Strong said, "There's been several small businesses who are just not able to relocate or do their business here unless they had that internet speed. We were able to get that to them. And being able to develop that in our community is pretty incredible."
It's a $112 million dollar project, but the CEO said the co-op is getting some help
Coleman said, "We did receive from the FCC word about 6 weeks ago that we were going to be getting $22.6 million in CAF funding."
And they are working to get internet access to the parts of the counties they cover.
"In five years every member that we have will have access to 1 gigabit of true high speed internet," Coleman said.