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Yes to SB150 (Editorial)

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The internet has the power to bring the world to the most remote location, erasing economic disadvantages based on geography. Yet Arkansas, a largely rural state, lags the nation in internet connectivity. We’re only the 45th most-connected state and 20 percent of Arkansans still lack access to wired broadband of 25 megabits per second or faster, according to Broadband Now.

A bill by state Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, could go a long way toward helping Arkansas catch up to the rest of the world in internet connectivity. Senate Bill 150 would allow government entities — including municipalities — to provide broadband service in unserved areas. The measure would amend the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 to let government entities use grants or loans to build the infrastructure needed to offer broadband.

The bill would help all Arkansans, not just those living in rural areas. “Davis told senators that Arkansas is one of five states that has the most restrictive broadband laws, and her legislation could affect people across the state, no matter where they live,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. “Local communities would decide whether to seek federal funds in partnership or on their own, she said.”

Providing broadband in rural areas is more expensive than in urban areas, and private internet service providers have been slow to invest in rural areas because the profits aren’t there.

Government provides highways, bridges, clean water and other infrastructure because that is a natural function of the state, to provide a service not readily offered by the private sector, particularly when that service accrues to the economic benefit of all citizens.

In our connected world, broadband is infrastructure, infrastructure that contributes to economic growth. Arkansas lawmakers should approve SB150 and make it easier for local governments to do their job.

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