Alan Morse, CEO of Jonesboro-based Ritter Communications, a regional telecom and broadband provider, said Arkansas is well ahead of surrounding states when it comes to investing in high-speed Internet fiber expansion.
Ritter has operations in over 100 communities across a four-state footprint, including Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. Morse said The Natural State has been smart in investing federal money into broadband deployment across rural Arkansas since the COVID-19 pandemic first brought a tranche of funding to the state.
“I give kudos to Governor Hutchinson and his team, and also the Arkansas legislature for the speed with which they jumped on the availability of those funds and got them deployed. Arkansas was really one of the first states in the country to make use of the CARES Act funds that came out in 2020, and then subsequently the funds that came out in 2021.
“I can tell you in just the surrounding states: Tennessee has not made a grant yet. Neither has Texas, neither has Oklahoma, to my knowledge, or Missouri. So Arkansas really jumped on that and took advantage of that opportunity,” Morse said.
Morse’s company, which is privately held, was planning for expansion in the community and business-to-business arena prior to the pandemic. That strategy shifted when the pandemic unfolded as Morse and his team analyzed the data coming from the marketplace.
In March and April of 2020, Ritter executives were watching unemployment climb to nearly 20% and wondering if cutting cable or Internet was going to be a sacrifice for consumers. Instead, the opposite happened.
“Our focus prior to the pandemic had been on commercial services. We were expanding fiber with the objective of serving businesses of all sizes across the state of Arkansas. And the pandemic really kind of stood that strategy on its head. It became clear almost immediately – or I guess the pandemic brought it to the forefront – the need for residential broadband as people transitioned to working from home, learning from home, using telemedicine, and so on,” he said.
Morse said Ritter pivoted quickly and began offering high-speed service at the residential level, and it’s been a solid investment with a huge return.
“We were surprised we started getting lots of calls from people who either had not been customers previously and who wanted to become customers and get a new broadband connection, or they wanted to upgrade their speeds, their packages, etc. either on the Internet side or on the cable TV side. People were looking to have more entertainment options without leaving the house. So that almost instantaneous increase in demand on the residential side as a result of the pandemic really caused us to say, ‘Let’s take a closer look at residential,’” Morse added.
You can watch his full interview in the video below.