CARES committee requests millions for rural broadband amid pandemic


The money will go toward deploying broadband, which will help both students and professionals who live in rural Arkansas work from home.

GRAVETTE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) committee is asking the state for millions of dollars to expand broadband to rural parts of Arkansas.

Some of those areas are right here in Northwest Arkansas.

“For our teachers to virtually connect with their students is really important,” said Rebecca Sears, the assistant superintendent of Gravette Schools. “That face to face connection and still being able to keep those relationships is really important. So the internet access would be critical in having those relationships continue.”

Inside the Gravette School District, there are about 1,800 students.

10 to 15 percent of those students have no or limited access to internet.

“We also had issues with teachers not having internet access at home because of where they live. Either being rural or having to increase their data plan so they could provide the virtual online instruction from their own home,” Sears said.

In order to remedy issues like these, the CARES committee is asking for $19.3 million worth of funding.

That money will go toward deploying broadband, which will help both students and professionals who live in rural areas work from home.

In the proposal, CARES Committee Chair Elizabeth Smith said more than 200,000 households in the Natural State don’t have access to broadband, which in turn makes it harder to social distance.

Without enough connection, Gravette Schools had to get creative last semester.

Sears said, “We were delivering lunches and when we did that to certain areas we took buses that had WiFi and when they were parked and they were delivering lunches, students were also able to bring their Chromebooks or their devices up and download content from the Google classroom.”

Moving into the fall, some kids might not have the option to do 100 percent virtual learning simply because of where they live.

So, Sears said her team has a plan in the works.

“We’re working with some of those rural areas and communities to see if we can set up hotspots with different businesses so they can access internet that way,” she said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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