$1B grant to help expand broadband

The Arkansas State Broadband Office has an ambitious goal in its quest to ensure that all Arkansans have affordable access to high-speed internet service as well as basic computer skills training and a device to use those skills.

Not only does the broadband office want to accomplish all that, it wants to do it all by 2030.

The Second Annual Broadband County Roadshow made a stop at The Auditorium in Eureka Springs on Thursday, March 28. State broadband director Glen E. Howie and digital opportunity manager Kamelle Gomez spent more than an hour outlining their office’s goals and strategy and answering questions from residents.

Arkansas is in line to receive a federal grant of $1.024 billion through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Howie said, although it’s unclear exactly when those funds will be released.

The money will be used to expand broadband access in the state and address affordability and digital skills needs throughout the state.

Internet service providers will be eligible to apply for funds through the grant to provide access to previously unserved businesses and residents in Arkansas — those locations who currently have no broadband access.

Howie outlined what he called the “three pillars of broadband” in Arkansas — access, affordability and opportunity.

Among the stories the state broadband office has heard from community members, Howie said, is that internet service frequently crashes due to weather-related issues, network interruptions and competition for bandwidth, as well as service that is not affordable. Another issue is that many people rely on mobile services and devices to access the internet, which restricts their ability to utilize the internet to its full extent. A lack of digital skills training opportunities is another frequent complaint.

In Carroll County, grant funding is available to provide broadband access for more than 3,000 locations and approximately 1,900 households, according to numbers presented during the March 28 session, while 2,400 county residents ages 18 to 64 may lack basic digital skills.

As part of its preparation for receiving and administering the grant funds, the state broadband office has created a map of every business and residential location in the state, with colored dots representing each location’s current broadband accessibility and eligibility for grant funding.

To view the state broadband map at broadband.arkansas. gov and enter your business or residential address to check the dot for that address.

Addresses with a blue or red dot are eligible for grant funding, while addresses with a gray dot already should have good access through an internet service provider. Addresses with a green dot indicate a grant has already been awarded to provide access at that location.

Residents who disagree with the color dot assigned to a particular location can submit a challenge by taking a speed test at speedtest.arkansas. gov. Residents also can email broadband@arkansas.gov for help or visit carrollcountycollaborative. com for more information about challenging the color of dot that has been assigned.

The deadline to submit a challenge is April 19. Internet service providers will then have 30 days to rebut any challenges before a final determination is made by the state broadband office.

In addition to the state broadband map, the Carroll County Collaborative — which Howie described as a model for other county broadband committees across the state — has downloadable PDFs on its website at carrollcountycollabora-tive. com that list every location in the county as well as a link for residents to test the speed of their internet service.