Why is broadband connectivity important? Broadband is much more than a high-speed internet connection. Broadband is economic development. Broadband is education. Broadband is health care. The COVID-19 pandemic has also proven that broadband access is essential for the present and future of our state, and it is the key to sustaining rural Arkansas.
Currently, Arkansas ranks 46th in broadband connectivity with more than 200,000 households without wireline service. Fortunately, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has set forth a path to close this digital divide through the Arkansas Rural Connect Program (ARC) broadband grant program.
Broadband is a crucial piece of infrastructure. It can be compared to clean water, electricity or a paved highway. These are all necessities in today’s world. Due to the lack of high-speed connectivity, our state’s rural communities are at a disadvantage and struggle to reach their full potential. That is why Gov. Hutchinson’s ARC program is vital. The ARC program will make Arkansas a better place to live and work.
As we continually work to expand existing companies and locate new ones in Arkansas, broadband is near the top of the list in needs for investment. From the basic needs of all industries to the educational aspects of faster internet speeds for our students, its importance is now established.
Housed within the Arkansas Department of Commerce, the ARC program will distribute grants to help rural communities gain access to broadband. It is focused on partnerships. The General Assembly and governor’s office successfully partnered together to draft program rules to guide the program, and local officials will partner with internet service providers (ISPs) to co-apply for the grant funds. Arkansas has strong local leadership in our counties and cities, and they will be great spokesmen on behalf of their communities.
The state is wanting to empower local officials and let their voice be heard on this important issue. Because federal programs do not allow local officials to have a seat at the table, this voice will make the ARC program unique. This partnership will foster long-term project sustainability.
To connect as many Arkansans as possible, the ARC program will be a competitive grant. Applications will be scored against each other, and the best projects will be funded until the budget is exhausted. The awards will go toward expanding the broadband footprint within the community.
I encourage all of you to reach out to your local leaders to discuss the importance of applying for one of these grants. Applications will be completed in partnership between counties or local communities and . Applications can be found at www.arkansasedc.com/arc. The application window will close on Aug. 15.
Communities and unincorporated areas may apply on their own, or they may partner with surrounding communities.
The fast arrival of this terrible coronavirus has accelerated the need to increase broadband access to rural areas of the state. More people will undoubtedly continue to work from home. Children across the state are attending classes online. Companies are spending much more time on powerful meeting applications to do business. All of these activities require the infrastructure of high-speed connectivity like never before.
The ARC program will even the playing field. Whether you live in New York City or rural Arkansas, the online opportunities are the same. The governor’s office and Department of Commerce recognize the importance of digital connectivity and will continue to support the efforts to connect Arkansas.