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Broadband Story Omitted Federal Requirement (Letter to the Editor)

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To the Editor:

Connecting to the internet is no longer a luxury — it is a necessity. Access to broadband is essential for daily life and we must assure that no Arkansas community is left behind.

In 2019, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made it his priority to close Arkansas’ digital divide and deploy high-speed internet to underserved parts of the state. He created the State Broadband Office that has since funded $392 million in grants for 163 projects to connect homes and businesses statewide.

But the job is not finished. In April, the Broadband Development Group issued its broadband master plan, which laid out a pathway to achieve that goal. The plan was discussed in legislative committees and public forums.

In July, the state Department of Commerce received approval for an emergency rule for the Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) Program, which implements the master plan recommendations and incorporates changes required for Arkansas Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) funding. The emergency rule was discussed with ISP trade groups and reflected much of their input. We are in the process of promulgating a final rule that is an exact copy of the emergency rule. 

An Aug. 22 Arkansas Business article focused on a “new state funding formula” for internet service providers that are now required to cover 25% of costs while the state will share up to 75% in grant funding for each project. The article failed to mention that the 75%/25% cost share is required under IIJA and is a key recommendation of the master plan. The cost sharing is critical to stretch the one-time IIJA money so that we can reach all of Arkansas. There have been no public comments opposing the cost share.

We appreciate the ongoing support from our governor, members of the Legislature and city and county stakeholders. We are especially proud to partner with businesses that are deploying the most transformative technology of our generation. Working together in a true public-private partnership we will close the gap and improve the quality of life for all Arkansans.

Mike Preston
Secretary
Arkansas Department of Commerce

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