LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Governor Asa Hutchinson released key findings and recommendations Monday of a recent state broadband report from consultant, Broadband Development Group.
According to a press release, BDG, hired in October of last year, conducted a six-month, state-wide study to develop a comprehensive master plan for addressing the digital divide and inequitable availability of broadband service across Arkansas.
The findings show the state currently has 210,000 underserved households. 100,000 of these households are covered by a grant under the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the release said. The state reportedly cannot fund grants to these areas due to the federal rules associated with this grant, but Arkansas can address the gap in service of the remaining 110,000 households.
I’m pleased to see the state broadband report and recommendations from Broadband Development Group. We’ve already made significant progress with an aggressive approach to getting broadband deployed to rural areas of Arkansas. I’m appreciative of the thorough report and recommendations of BDG, and I am particularly grateful for the partnership with the Arkansas General Assembly in getting ahead of the curve with an early start to deploying rural broadband. I look forward to expedited progress as we put into operation the recommendations and continue our partnership.Governor Hutchinson
According to the release, the state anticipates future funding for broadband through the Coronavirus Capital Project Fund, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as a second installment of Arkansas Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds this summer. The State Broadband office, created by Governor Hutchinson in July 2019, has awarded $386 million in grants through the Arkansas Rural Connect grant program.
“BDG was hired to perform a state-wide study to determine the true state of broadband coverage in Arkansas and finding the most efficient way to fund deployment to those remaining underserved,” the releases said.
It hosted a series of more than 300 community meetings in all 75 counties and received more than 18,000 surveys from residents across the state. The report addresses the key deliverables required by the contract: assessing available broadband assets in the state; mapping out where the broadband gap exists in the state; calculating the budget needed to bridge the gap; and recommending improvements to the ARC grant program.
“This broadband initiative should make the constituents of Arkansas extremely proud in how their government has operated together,” said Senator Jimmy Hickey. “The Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch have worked together to provide an efficient avenue to provide service across a broad area of the entire state of Arkansas.”
The Arkansas Department of Commerce plans to convene stakeholders next month to discuss the report and seek community feedback. The full report and executive summary can be found here.