Arkansas Likely to Benefit From Broadband Stimulus

by Jamie Walden  on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009 5:35 pm  

With myriad companies hemorrhaging jobs, Windstream's Rhoda said that the broadband provisions in the package might not create many jobs but could at least help stop the bleeding.

"Times are getting tight and businesses are cutting back. What these stimulus dollars could do is they could change the economics for several businesses in the chain of whatever component of the stimulus package they are," Rhoda said. "So for instance, if we were to get a significant share of stimulus dollars to build out our broadband, No. 1, we'd need more people in our engineering group to design the broadband expansion."

From there, the economic dominoes continue to topple in a positive direction.

Windstream would need to hire contractors to execute the build-outs, providing much needed circulation in the sluggish construction industry.

"And then take it all the way to the people who are providing the electronics that make the broadband network work," Rhoda said. "In theory, their orders are going to be significantly greater because of this national program. And, therefore, they're going to have to be producing more and more equipment than they are otherwise forecasting."

Another significant link in the economic chain will be the consumers who, until now, have been unable to participate in the broadband economy, Rhoda said. Welcoming them into the fold ought to inject some new blood into Internet commerce, he added.

Different Styles

Windstream and Aristotle will be major vehicles to bolster broadband connectivity in Arkansas, once fueled by the stimulus dollars.

Although the companies both offer broadband Internet access, their methods of doing so differ.
Windstream, a wireline broadband provider, trenches and lays fiber optic cabling to bring service to customers. Aristotle, on the other hand, erects towers to provide wireless Internet access - a technology called "hub and spoke," said Elizabeth Bowles, president of Aristotle Inc. and its ISP division,

Aristotle, in some cases, uses wireless mesh technology, in which individual routers relay a signal to other routers, such as the Internet access Aristotle offers in the River Market District of downtown Little Rock or the network in downtown North Little Rock hosted by Argenta Wireless.

Bowles said expanding into areas that have insufficient or no Internet access is already part of the company's business plan. This week Aristotle is scheduled to bring online East End, an area south of Mabelvale that has been almost unserved.

Bowles said that, as a wireless broadband provider, Aristotle can expand into certain areas cheaper than a wireline provider because it doesn't have the costs associated with digging and laying fiber optic cabling to each house. Areas that are either too rural or just not economically feasible for some wireline ISPs to cover may not be for Aristotle.

"There is a reason unserved and underserved areas are currently underserved," Bowles said. "And the grants need to help get around that because it is absolutely critical.

"Broadband is critical infrastructure. It is as critical as roads. It's as critical as electricity. We have got to get broadband to every single household and every single business in the state of Arkansas; one way or the other, that has to happen. And the stimulus package could go a long way to helping that happen, but is has to be done in such a way that the grant money is accessible and useable by companies."

Whatever broadband budget lawmakers decide on - whether $6 billion or $7 billion or some other number - one thing is certain: The broadband budget in the economic stimulus bill "by no means is anywhere near enough of an investment to solve this issue in the country," said C. Sam Walls, CEO of Arkansas Capital Corp. Group. "It's just a down payment."



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