ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — According to the state broadband director, Glen Howie, the latest round of approved funding for Arkansas broadband projects brought in nearly $94 million. That money will go towards 14 projects to help reach more Arkansans in need, but there’s still more work to be done.
Howie said since 2020 the state has distributed over $396 million in broadband grants. He said Arkansas is looked at as a leader when it comes to broadband expansion.
According to Howie, there have been 163 broadband projects, impacting over 110,000 locations across the state since the infrastructure initiatives began. Still, Howie said around 269,000 households and businesses are still without broadband access. He’s hoping that will change soon.
“The dollars that will flow from Washington through the infrastructure bill — at least one grant round next year, maybe two, and several in the year after — we will have enough funding to ensure that every single remaining unconnected home and business in Arkansas gets connected,” said Howie.
Howie estimates around $600 million will be needed to meet the infrastructure needs in the state. With the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding, Howie expects to be able to meet that need.
“Projections would be that Arkansas could potentially receive anywhere from $600 million all the way up to $1.335 billion for broadband through the infrastructure bill,” said Howie.
Angie Cooper is the chief program officer for Heartland Forward. The group focuses on improving the economic performance of the country, Arkansas in particular. Availability, affordability and adoptability are all critical in the non-profits’ goals to help the state expand broadband.
As far as affordability, Heartland Forward has worked alongside the FCC on the Affordable Connectivity Program. The program allows eligible residents to receive $30 a month for internet services.
According to Cooper, the internet is an economic issue. COVID-19 highlighted how critical the internet is in schools, for healthcare and for jobs.
Looking into the new year, the broadband office will bring another round of funding before the general assembly this month. Howie expects to have one or two grant rounds for broadband expansion this year.
The broadband office is confident the funding from Washington will meet the need for the expansion while creating an opportunity for focusing on key concerns.
“We have the potential in Arkansas to not only take care of the remaining unserved and underserved households and businesses in the state but also to get very innovative with the programs targeting four key areas for the state: health care, education, small business and agriculture,” said Howie.
The FCC just released new maps to demonstrate where service is in Arkansas. Residents in the state have until Jan. 13 to report any inaccuracies.