Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week the Arkansas Rural Connect program, which will provide $25 million in grants to qualifying towns of at least 500 residents to build out high-speed broadband internet. The goal is to provide high-speed broadband to rural communities throughout the state by 2022.
The program seeks to take advantage of a new state law, one we’ve been remiss in not previously applauding: Act 198 of 2019. The measure allows municipalities and other public entities to apply for funding to provide broadband. Previously, government bodies were barred from providing broadband to the public, a prohibition that made little sense.
This is an Opinion
High-speed broadband has become almost as essential to civilized living as electricity or safe drinking water, products provided for the most part by public utilities, products that, with occasional exceptions, are provided relatively cheaply and reliably.
High-speed broadband is an even greater requirement for economic development, as the governor noted. “The long-term success of our economy will be determined by the resources our entrepreneurs have access to, and high-speed broadband is at the top of that list,” Hutchinson said.
And Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said that one of the most important considerations for prospective businesses is the availability of high-speed internet. Unfortunately, Arkansas ranks last among the states in access to broadband, BroadbandNow.com says.
The internet allows businesses to operate almost anywhere because they can communicate with almost anyone across the globe. Fast connectivity could become an important marketing tool for smaller towns seeking to retain their brightest homegrown entrepreneurs and attract new business. Couple that with a lower cost of living and a more relaxed environment, and staying down on the farm even after you’ve seen Paree could make sound economic sense.
So get connected, Arkansas.