South Arkansas Telephone Company (SATCO) of Hampton and Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp. (OECC) of Camden announced Tuesday the formation of ARIS, a new company that will bring 1-gigabit internet service to thousands of homes and businesses in the region.
"This partnership leverages the strengths of both companies so we can come together and serve our customers and our communities," Mark Cayce, general manager of OECC, said in a news release. "Companies looking to move to south Arkansas can know that they can get the same or better level of connectivity services they get in large metropolitan areas."
OECC said ARIS plans to start delivering services in September and wants to reach all 9,500 OECC homes and businesses with its fiber optic network in the next few years.
Initial packages will also include digital voice service with unlimited local and long distance calls and video services offering up to 70 channels.
Mark Lundy, director of SATCO, said in the release that the two cities where the partners are headquartered would join larger cities like Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in offering the 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds.
He told Arkansas Business that SATCO approached OECC and started talking about this a little over a year ago.
What came of it was a "50-50" partnership to bring this service to the most rural part of Arkansas, he said.
"They had the customers, and they had the telephone power poles, and they had a lot of the infrastructure there that we could build off of," Lundy said. "And then we bring the expertise on the internet..."
Lundy called the services "transformative" and added that he hoped the project would bring the state from the bottom to the top tier nationwide in connectivity.
"I know we're leading the way," he said.
Cayce told Arkansas Business this new service would be "world-class" and a "gamechanger." He also said the partnership would help OECC upgrade other equipment, like its smart meters.
Cayce said OECC and SATCO are natural patners because their service territories overlap and the new service would make the area a more attractive place to live and locate businesses.
Lundy said that SATCO's 2010 partnership with the Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network (ARE-ON) to create 300 miles of new network enabled it to connect with OECC and provide the gigabit service.