South Arkansas electric company, telecom partner to offer high-speed broadband service

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 754 views 

One of the members of the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives in Camden is partnering with a rural telecom in Hampton to form a new company to bring gigabit internet service to south Arkansas, joining larger cable and telecom giants in Arkansas seeking to expand “ultra fast” broadband service to smaller communities.

Ouachita Electric Cooperative (OECC) and South Arkansas Telephone (SATCO) announced today (June 14) that they have formed a new company called ARIS to bring gigabit internet service to thousands of homes and businesses in south Arkansas.

ARIS plans to start delivering services to customers in September 2016 with the goal of reaching all 9,500 homes and businesses of the OECC membership with fiber optic network services over the next few years, OECC and SATCO officials said. The initial packages will include options for gigabit Internet services, digital voice with unlimited local and long distance, and video services with options for up to 70 channels.

ARIS, which is now the second electric cooperative in Arkansas to launch a broadband offering in Arkansas in 2016, joins a growing list of larger telecom and cable providers that are looking to expand gigabit and gigabyte service to residential and businesses customers across the state. Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Fayetteville has also created a telecom subsidiary, and now has a gigabit-level, high-speed Internet offering called “OzarksGo,” which was unveiled in April.

“In the 1930’s and 1940’s it was the electric cooperatives that brought electricity to rural America, today it’s access to the internet,” said Mark Cayce, general manager of OECC. “This partnership leverages the strengths of both companies so we can come together and serve our customers and our communities. Companies looking to move to south Arkansas can know that they can get the same or better level of connectivity services they get in large metropolitan areas.”

“We’re adding Camden and Hampton, Arkansas, to the list of gigabit cities that includes Austin, Nashville, Kansas City and Chattanooga,” said Mark Lundy, director of SATCO. “These services will be transformative for not only our customers, but our region as well. SATCO believes in partnerships with other entities to help drive economic development for southern Arkansas.”

Last year, several Arkansas-based companies announced they were rolling out gigabit Internet offerings across the state. In May 2015, Cox Communications was the first to announce active deployment of fiber optic infrastructure in parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Oklahoma and Virginia to bring its “G1GABLAST” to customers in those states.

The service launched in parts of Northwest Arkansas in the fall, and Cox has said its residential gigabit service will be available in all of its markets by the end of 2016. Cox, which provides Internet service to the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas markets, already offers residential gigabit connections in parts of Phoenix, Ariz., Orange County, Calif.; Omaha, Neb., and Las Vegas. The company has been deploying multi-gigabit speeds to businesses for more than 10 years.

In December 2015, Dallas-based telecom and wireless giant AT&T announced plans to expand the availability of its gigabit Internet service to residential and small businesses in the Little Rock, Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas metropolitan areas. The rollout of the new Internet service is part of AT&T’s nationwide expansion of the service to 38 additional metros across the U.S. The service is now available to 56 metro areas across AT&T’s vast fiber optic network.

AT&T has not divulged the approximate dates the service will be available in Little Rock, Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas, but a company spokesman woman has said the launch date typically takes place within a year of announced plans.

Cable giant Comcast also announced plans in 2015 to unveil its 2-gig Internet service in Atlanta and other communities across the South, but not Arkansas. The nation’s largest cable and Internet provider, said it is now testing a “scalable, national” 1-gig technology service, and expects to begin rolling it out this year.

Rural telecom operator CenturyLink also now offers gigabit service to some residential and business customers in selected markets, but not in Arkansas. Little Rock-based Windstream has also began rolling out gigabit broadband offerings in several of the larger markets where it operations this year.

When asked if any other 15 members of the AEC in Arkansas plan to jump into the Internet business in the future, Rob Roedel, spokesman for the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives (AEC), said that decision is left up to each of the individual electric cooperatives.

“As you are aware each individual electric cooperative is locally owned and governed by a local board of directors, so decisions such as entering a new business venture is handled by each respective electric cooperative,” Roedel said.

Last week, OECC President and CEO Mitchell Johnson; Randy Klindt, general manager of its subsidiary, OzarksGo; and Elizabeth Bowles, president of Little Rock-based Aristotle, testified before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology on the need for the state to use a blended approached to extend broadband to rural areas.

Bowles said no technology is future proof and the state needs a blended approach. She said fixed wireless broadband, which transmits data wirelessly from permanent locations, is a better solution in some circumstances because it can achieve high speeds and be deployed cheaper and quicker. She said speed is only one consideration for laying broadband; others include consumer costs and whether providers cap the amount of data that can be consumed.

More than two years ago, former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called for at least one gigabit communities in all 50 states by 2015 to meet the “Gigabit City Challenge,” which he said would accelerate gigabit communities nationwide through the creation of a critical mass of markets and innovation hubs with ultra-fast Internet speeds.

According to the FCC, speeds of one gigabit per second are approximately 100 times faster than the average fixed high-speed Internet connection. At gigabit speeds, connections can handle multiple streams of large-format, high-definition content like online video calls, movies, and immersive educational experiences. Networks cease to be hurdles to applications, so it no longer matters whether medical data, high-definition video, or online services are in the same building or miles away across the state.