Arkansas Working to Rise on Digital Index

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Sep. 12, 2011 12:00 am  

In the information age, a rural state like Arkansas is having a tough time keeping up with the competition.

The 2010 State New Economy Index, which in November ranked states based on their ability to compete in the present economy, listed Arkansas as 46th in the nation under its "digital economy" category, beating only New Mexico, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi.

The index measures the state's percentage of population online, use of information technology to deliver state government services, deployment of broadband telecommunications and health information technology.

But the situation seems to be improving: In 2009, Arkansas was 49th on the list. Connect Arkansas, a Little Rock-based organization dedicated to improving the state's digital economy, was created in 2007 to address the issue of the digital economy.

"Right now we show 92 percent of the state's population has access to wireline or fixed wireless," said Emerson Evans, program training specialist for Connect Arkansas.

But if we're that connected, why are we so low on the list? Because, Evans said, Arkansas has a lot of sparsely populated areas and many residents who aren't interested in using the Internet for business.

"We think that, really, the key is education," Evans said.

"We're trying to show relevancy through the practical application of the Internet," said Jamie Moody, marketing director for the company. The company is also using $7.8 million in federal stimulus money it received in 2010 to further its sustainable broadband and mapping projects.

In urban areas like Little Rock, more restaurants and public areas are trying to draw in customers and spark Internet commerce with free Wi-Fi services.

In 2004, Arkansas Business reported 50 Wi-Fi hot spots available in the state. The year before, there were 12. Now, there are countless.

But there's no such thing as a free lunch. In fact, "free" Wi-Fi is a costly product.

The Little Rock National Airport, for example, pays Windstream Corp. $1,151.65 per month so airport customers can browse without paying.

Bigger corporations like AT&T tend to woo corporations, such as McDonald's and Starbucks, into agreements for company-wide Wi-Fi.



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