Asa Hutchinson Releases Plan to Spread Broadband Statewide

Asa Hutchinson Releases Plan to Spread Broadband Statewide
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (file) (Lance Turner)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday released his Arkansas State Broadband Plan, setting a goal to deploy high-speed broadband to all Arkansas communities with more than 500 residents by 2022. 

The high-speed broadband would have a rate of 25 megabits per second for download and 3 megabits per second for upload. The plan details the governor's goal, how close Arkansas is to achieving it and how to get there.

"Arkansas has already established itself as a national leader in providing high-speed, broadband connectivity to our schools," Hutchinson said in a news release.

"Today, as a result, our students are developing 21st century skills in the classroom to succeed in tomorrow's workforce. Our focus now extends beyond our schools and into our rural communities. Equal access to high-speed broadband in rural Arkansas is a critical component to the success and longevity of our state's economy, and I believe this plan will help us accomplish that goal within the next four years."

There are 136 internet providers in Arkansas, but 641,000 people lack access to a wired internet connection capable of 25 Mbps download speeds, the plan says. About 721,000 have access to only one wired internet provider, with no options to switch; and 251,000 people don't have any wired internet providers available where they live, according to the plan. 

The plan includes creating a State Broadband Office tasked with helping citizens, companies and municipalities use federal programs for broadband, "while overseeing ongoing public policy deliberations to treat all stakeholders fairly while incentivizing deployment."

This plan also suggests that the state government focus on:

  • Accessing and leveraging federal programs to the fullest extent;  
  • Designing and administering smart regulations that treat all stakeholders fairly while encouraging deployment and competition;  
  • Reforming the governance of existing state-owned assets, such as dark fiber, towers and public rights-of-way, so that private companies and other non-governmental organizations can use them to deliver broadband;
  • Educating the public about the value of broadband;  
  • Marketing ongoing and expected progress in broadband deployment to businesses to encourage investment in Arkansas; and 
  • Exploring all avenues for making broadband affordable.

The plan notes that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has announced his intention to repurpose the Connecting America Fund II, which expires in 2020, with a phase-out in 2021 to create a “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” which would allocate $20.4 billion over 10 years to deploying rural broadband through reverse auctions. 

Congress has also provided $600 million for a new program, "USDA ReConnect," which offers funding to internet service providers to give homes, community facilities, farms and businesses access to sufficient broadband coverage.

The plan also cites the importance of broadband deployment to two industries, agriculture and health care. 

The governor in March asked the Arkansas Development Finance Authority Economic Policy Division, led by Nathan Smith, to develop the plan. The governor said telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives, utilities and internet service providers will be able to cite the plan when applying for federal grants to expand broadband in rural Arkansas.

The following organizations and people helped prepare the plan and provided feedback on it:

  • Arkansas Department of Information Systems; 
  • University of Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service; 
  • Arkansas Department of Health; 
  • AT&T;
  • Cox; 
  • CenturyLink; 
  • Windstream; 
  • University of Arkansas System; 
  • ARE-ON Network; 
  • Larry Frazier of Rural Arkansas Telecommunication Systems; 
  • Arkansas Electric Cooperatives; 
  • Rural Electric Cooperative Association; 
  • technology expert Brent Skorup of the Mercatus Center; 
  • Elizabeth Bowles of Aristotle and the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee; 
  • Ted Thomas, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission; 
  • Arkansas Department of Transportation; and 
  • Cynthia Edwards, deputy secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

More On This Story