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13 Electric Co-Ops Announce $1.6B Plan to Form New Broadband Provider

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Thirteen electric cooperatives across Arkansas are investing $1.6 billion in a partnership to form a new wholesale broadband provider.

The organization, called Diamond State Networks, would provide access to more than 1.25 million rural Arkansans through more than 50,000 miles of fiber lines. 

The group is led by Mitchell Johnson, CEO of Ozarks Electric Cooperative of Fayetteville, and Jeremiah Sloan, president and CEO of Craighead Electric Cooperative of Jonesboro. 

The organization is governed by a board of directors composed of additional executive leaders from its 13 partner cooperatives or subsidiary fiber networks. Its first annual meeting was held last weekend in Hot Springs.

The partner cooperatives are:

  • OzarksGo of Fayetteville, a telecommunications subsidiary of Ozarks Electric Cooperative
  • Clay County Connect of Corning, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Clay County Electric Cooperative Corporation
  • Farmers Electric Cooperative of Newport
  • Petit Jean Fiber of Clinton, a subsidiary of Petit Jean Electric Cooperative
  • Enlightened by Woodruff Electric of Forrest City, a subsidiary of Woodruff Electric Cooperative
  • Prairie, Monroe, Cross, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips counties in eastern Arkansas
  • NEXT Powered by NAEC of Salem, a subsidiary of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative
  • Wave Rural Connect of Ozark, a subsidiary of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative
  • Arkansas Fiber Network, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the statewide Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.
  • Four States Fiber Internet of Texarkana, a subsidiary of Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative
  • empower, Delivered by Craighead Electric of Jonesboro, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Craighead Electric Cooperative Corp.
  • MCEC Fiber of Blytheville, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mississippi County Electric Cooperative
  • South Central Connect of Arkadelphia, a subsidiary of South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative
  • Connect2First of Jacksonville, a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Electric

The group recently opened its first official corporate office in Jonesboro.

Johnson said in a news release that by bringing the co-ops together, they’re providing “long-term, far-reaching affordability and delivering high-performance connectivity to every corner of our state.”

“Ultimately it will offer local internet service providers better access and capacity to deliver their services, and better opportunities to directly serve businesses with reliable connectivity wherever they are,” he said. “We’re making it affordable to reach more areas with best-in-class technology to close the gaps from past limitations.”

The announcement comes amid a broader push to connect rural households across the nation. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law includes $65 billion in funds to expand internet access to underserved communities.  

In Arkansas, a study released last month found that 210,000 households have broadband speeds that are insufficient for work or learning. About 110,000 of those households were not covered by federal grants.

The cost of bringing faster internet to those homes was estimated to be up to $550 million.

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