Arkansas’ electric co-ops to spend $1.66 billion on broadband expansion

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,487 views 

Diamond State Networks, a coalition of 13 Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, is the newest wholesale broadband provider in the state with the goal of providing high-speed internet access to 1.25 million rural Arkansans.

The Jonesboro-based coalition is co-managed by Mitchell Johnson, president and CEO of Ozarks Electric, and Jeremiah Sloan, president and CEO of Craighead Electric. The board of directors includes executives from the 13 partner cooperatives or subsidiary fiber networks. Diamond State’s network will cover more than 64% of Arkansas with more than 50,000 miles of fiber.

“Together, the 13 electric cooperatives have invested, or are planning to invest, more than $1.66 billion in broadband communication infrastructure, exclusively in fiber-optic networks. Focusing on reliability, quality and sustainability, the network will serve nearly 600,000 potential customer locations, and will have an immensely positive impact on the state’s economy by helping to make Arkansas a place where people want to live and do business for years to come,” noted a statement from the network.

Johnson said connecting the cooperative’s broadband networks will bring affordable, high-speed internet access to “every corner of our state.”

“Ultimately it will offer local internet service providers better access and capacity to deliver their services, and better opportunities to directly serve businesses with reliable connectivity wherever they are. We’re making it affordable to reach more areas with best-in-class technology to close the gaps from past limitations,” Johnson said.

The Diamond State expansion should help reach Arkansas households without access to high-speed broadband. A recent report from Broadband Development Group (BDG) said the state has 210,000 households underserved by broadband services, but 100,000 of them are being addressed by federal and state programs. Using federal funding, the remaining 110,000 households could be reached at a cost of up to $550 million.

The report says 110,000 households are not being addressed by any federal programs, and up to $550 million would be needed to reach them. That money can come from the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act programs. Of those, 100,000 households can be reached for between $254 million and $358 million within three years.

The last 10,000 households, many of them in the most rural and sparsely populated areas of Arkansas, would require more than $200 million, or about $20,000 for every household, the report said.

Following are the coop partner entities that will be part of Diamond States Network.
• OzarksGo
Based in Fayetteville, OzarksGo is a telecommunications subsidiary of Ozarks Electric Cooperative, offering all-fiber gigabit internet and premium television and telephone services to Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma.

• Clay County Connect
Based in Corning, the partner is a wholly owned subsidiary of Clay County Electric Cooperative Corporation (CCECC), serving members in Clay, Randolph and Greene counties.

• Farmers Electric Cooperative
Based in Newport, the network serves members in Independence, Jackson, Poinsett and Woodruff counties.

• Petit Jean Fiber
Based in Clinton, Petit Jean is a subsidiary of Petit Jean Electric Cooperative, serving members in central Arkansas.

• Enlightened by Woodruff Electric
Based in Forrest City, the partner is a subsidiary of Woodruff Electric Cooperative, serving parts of Woodruff, Prairie, Monroe, Cross, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips counties in eastern Arkansas.

• NEXT Powered by NAEC
Based in Salem, NEXT is a subsidiary of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, bringing broadband internet, telephone and television services to members in eight north Arkansas counties.

• Wave Rural Connect
Based in Ozark, Wave is a subsidiary of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative, serving members in the parts of the Fort Smith metro and into parts of eastern Oklahoma.

• Arkansas Fiber Network (AFN)
AFN is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association of the 17 distribution electric cooperatives in Arkansas. AFN was formed to provide middle-mile fiber in support of the distribution cooperatives’ broadband efforts, as well as those of Diamond State Networks.

• Four States Fiber Internet
Based in Texarkana, the partner is a subsidiary of Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative, offering high-speed internet to members in Miller, Howard, Sevier, Columbia, Lafayette, Hempstead, Little River and Polk counties in Arkansas; Bowie and Cass Counties in Texas; and McCurtain County in Oklahoma.

• empower, Delivered by Craighead Electric
Based in Jonesboro, empower is a wholly owned subsidiary of Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation, serving customers throughout northeast Arkansas.

• MCEC Fiber
Based in Blytheville, MCEC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mississippi County Electric Cooperative, serving members in northern Mississippi County, Arkansas.

• South Central Connect
Based in Arkadelphia, the partner is a subsidiary of South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative, serving members in Clark, Hot Spring, Pike, Montgomery and Nevada counties.

• Connect2First
Based in Jacksonville, the partner is a wholly owned subsidiary of First Electric, serving members throughout central and southeastern Arkansas.