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Arkansas Announces $25M Grant for Broadband Expansion

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the Arkansas Rural Connect program to help communities with at least 500 residents receive funding for broadband infrastructure to provide residents with high-speed Internet access.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the launch of a $25 million grant program available through the state’s broadband office.

The program, dubbed Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC), aligns with the governor’s goal of providing high-speed broadband to rural communities by 2022, through methods outlined in the State Broadband Plan released in May, according to a press release.

Grants will be awarded to qualifying communities of at least 500 people and infrastructure must allow for at least 25 Mbps for download and 3 Mbps for upload. Of the $25 million plan, the Arkansas Legislative Council will be able to approve $5.7 million this year, with the remainder requiring approval in the next legislative session in 2020.

Dr. Nathan Smith, who the governor appointed as the state’s broadband manager on July 23, said the grant will close financing gaps for municipalities with a lack of service.

“Broadband is evolving into a necessity for modern life, similar to traditional utilities such as electricity, telephone service, sewage and water,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “This new program will make broadband available to more Arkansans.”

The ARC program will enhance Act 198, passed by the Legislature in February. It allows local governments to provide broadband to residents, which had previously been barred by the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013.

Hutchinson said in a press release that high-speed Internet will benefit economic development in his state.

“The Arkansas Rural Connect program is an important tool that will allow the state to assist our local communities with the critical funding necessary to reach our goal of statewide connectivity,” Hutchinson said. “I will be asking legislative approval for the $25 million broadband plan.”

The ARC program will prioritize applications based on partnerships with Internet service providers to deploy broadband at 25/3 speeds to all residents of a community; shared project costs and/or provided facilitation for projects by procuring rights-of-way for wireline installations; a population of at least 500 with less than 50 percent of residents covered by Internet speeds of 25/3; and whether or not projects constrain normal Internet use.

The State Broadband Office will continue to pursue federal grants and loans through the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Commerce, the release states. The office will also begin an education campaign aimed toward local leaders, and serve as a resource for towns, cities and service providers seeking funding from federal programs.

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.