LITTLE ROCK – Governor Asa Hutchinson today released key findings and recommendations of an anticipated state broadband report from consultant, Broadband Development Group (BDG). BDG, hired in October of last year, conducted a six-month, state-wide study to develop a comprehensive master plan for addressing the digital divide and inequitable availability of broadband service across Arkansas. According to its findings, Arkansas currently has 210,000 underserved households. 100,000 of these households are covered by a grant under the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Because of the federal rules associated with this grant, the state cannot fund grants to these areas. But Arkansas can address the gap in service of the remaining 110,000 households.
“I’m pleased to see the state broadband report and recommendations from Broadband Development Group,” said Governor Hutchinson. “We’ve already made significant progress with an aggressive approach to getting broadband deployed to rural areas of Arkansas. I’m appreciative of the thorough report and recommendations of BDG, and I am particularly grateful for the partnership with the Arkansas General Assembly in getting ahead of the curve with an early start to deploying rural broadband. I look forward to expedited progress as we put into operation the recommendations and continue our partnership.”
The state anticipates future funding for broadband through the Coronavirus Capital Project Fund, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and a second installment of Arkansas Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds this summer. The State Broadband office, created by Governor Hutchinson in July 2019, has awarded $386 million in grants through the Arkansas Rural Connect grant program.
“The broadband report recognizes the significant work we’ve done, and groundwork laid with the Arkansas Rural Connect grant program established by Governor Hutchinson in 2019,” said Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. “We now have a roadmap and a detailed plan to fill the remaining gaps of the underserved areas of our state. We look forward to continuing to partner with Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), electric cooperatives, the legislature, and other key stakeholders, taking recommendations from this plan and updating the broadband rules.”
BDG was hired to perform a state-wide study to determine the true state of broadband coverage in Arkansas and finding the most efficient way to fund deployment to those remaining underserved. They hosted a series of more than 300 community meetings in all 75 counties and received more than 18,000 surveys from residents across the state. The report addresses the key deliverables required by the contract: assessing available broadband assets in the state; mapping out where the broadband gap exists in the state; calculating the budget needed to bridge the gap; and recommending improvements to the ARC grant program.
“This broadband initiative should make the constituents of Arkansas extremely proud in how their government has operated together,” said Senator Jimmy Hickey. “The Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch have worked together to provide an efficient avenue to provide service across a broad area of the entire state of Arkansas.”
“Now is a critical time for our state to close the digital divide,” said Representative Matthew Shepherd, Speaker of the House. “The legislature invested in this report to develop a strategic plan moving forward. We want to see Arkansans not only connected but operating at speeds necessary for work and education in years to come.”
The Arkansas Department of Commerce plans to convene stakeholders next month to discuss the report and seek community feedback. The full report and executive summary can be found here.