Lou McAlister has been traveling Arkansas for months and he knows a thing or two about who has broadband, who needs broadband, and how hard it will be to deliver for many remote citizens.
McAlister, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, said an upcoming meeting to be held soon on the report produced by his firm, Broadband Development Group, is full of facts and figures – and policy decisions to make. The total price tag could reach as high as $550 million to wire nearly every household in Arkansas. He said the willingness to spend $20,000 to $40,000 to deliver broadband to a single home at the end of a country road will be a tough one for legislators.
“That is the policy debate. You know, jokingly we talk about, it would be cheaper to move people into town and buy or build them a house, but we don’t tell people where to live. People can live where they want to live. So that is going to be the policy debate,” he said.
“If we spend that money, there’s no guarantee that that person is going to buy service. There’s no guarantee that that person is going to be able to afford to buy a service. I’m glad I’m not one of the policy makers on that part. But yeah, that is a big debate,” he added.
McAlister said his months-long report clarified several data points. One of the findings is that the number of households lacking in broadband speed – 100 mbs upload and 20 mbs download – is smaller than originally thought.
“The problem isn’t as big as we thought it was going to be. The original FCC map showed us having 251,000 households underserved. So we corrected the FCC map. That number came down to 210,000. And then when we looked at the grant programs to see that 100,000 of those already have funding to them. We were very surprised the problem isn’t quite as big as we thought,” McAlister said. “This is a solvable problem and there’s money for it. So we’re pretty pleased about that.”
A conservative average cost expense per mile that McAlister used to estimate expenses for completing broadband expansion across the state is $40,000 per mile. That number was derived through conversations with roughly 30 broadband providers.
McAlister said there are still millions of dollars to be spent and he’s hopeful his report will give lawmakers and administration officials the guidance they need to be able to make smart financial decisions.
“These are big projects. These are big engineering projects. This is a lot of fiber optic cable that has to be either buried or strung along poles, rights-of-way and so forth,” he’ said.
You can watch McAlister’s full interview in the video below.