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Arkansas Opens the Door for Municipal Broadband Networks

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill that enables cities to provide broadband services to their citizens. The legislation does place some restrictions on certain government entities.

The Arkansas Capitol Building
The Arkansas Capitol Building
Shutterstock/W. Scott McGill
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has approved a bill that allows municipalities to go into the broadband business.

The bill, which amends the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, was signed on Feb. 4. Under the new law, local governments "may acquire, construct, furnish, equip, own, operate, sell, convey, lease, rent, let, assign, dispose of, contract for or otherwise deal in facilities and apparatus for" broadband services. In the past, generally only cable or telephone companies in Arkansas had this ability.

Republicans, including Sen. Ricky Hill, introduced the bill last month

"This opens it up where we can get some new competitors into this field," said Hill, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Under the legislation, there are restrictions, such as required partnerships with entities and mandatory public hearings, for local governments that want to use "bonds or other indebtedness" to finance municipal broadband infrastructure. However, the restrictions don't apply if the government owns an "electric utility system or television signal distribution system"; provides services solely for emergency management, law enforcement, education or health care; or has been awarded funding to connect unserved populations. 

The bill received unanimous approval from the Arkansas House and Senate.

Last year, new research indicated that states with fewer restrictions on municipal broadband tended to have better Internet availability. 

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.
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