Department of Commerce awards $53 million for high-speed broadband funds

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,224 views 

The Arkansas Department of Commerce announced Wednesday (Feb. 22) that more than $53 million will be awarded to 10 internet service providers in Arkansas to extend high-speed internet in eight underserved counties throughout the state.

This award completes the sixth award phase of the Arkansas Rural Connect broadband infrastructure grant program which is designed to expand the broadband footprint in rural Arkansas communities.

The $53 million investment, combined with $18.8 million in provider matching funds, will result in nearly 5,800 homes and businesses being connected to fast, reliable internet in Ashley, Baxter, Chicot, Clark, Columbia, Hot Spring, Logan, and Lonoke counties.

“Ensuring that Arkansas families have access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet is one of the highest priorities of my administration,” Gov. Sarah Sanders said. “It is foundational to enhancing educational opportunities for our students, improving healthcare for our residents, and igniting economic renewal across our great state.”

The Arkansas Rural Connect grant program is administered by the Arkansas State Broadband Office, housed within the Department of Commerce. The program has awarded nearly $550 million to connect more than 129,000 unserved and underserved locations throughout Arkansas.

“The Department of Commerce is honored to be charged with the responsibility to bring affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to all Arkansans,” said Hugh McDonald, secretary of the Department of Commerce. “Today’s announcement is another step forward on the path to creating opportunities for families, entrepreneurs, and businesses of all sizes by eliminating the digital divide in Arkansas by 2028.”

The eight projects announced today, along with 14 projects approved last December by the Arkansas Legislative Council, were funded through the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund. Through the fund, the state of Arkansas was allocated $158 million for internet-related projects. Demonstrating the need for continued broadband expansion in the state, the Arkansas State Broadband Office received nearly $328 million in grant requests.

“We’ve made great strides as a state in prioritizing the buildout of broadband infrastructure,” said Glen Howie, state broadband director. “Under Governor Sanders’ strong leadership, we plan to connect the remaining unconnected, work to ensure broadband affordability, and equip our residents with the digital skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy.”

Arkansas Rural Connect awardees and counties that will benefit from this phase of the program include:

  • CableSouth Media LLC (Ashley County) – $7.921 million
  • NEXT, Powered by NAEC (Baxter County) – $2.151 million
  • Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative Inc (Chicot County) – $6.621 million
  • South Central Connect LLC (Clark County) – $1.677 million
  • Four States Fiber (Columbia County) – $5.207 million
  • South Central Connect LLC/Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative Inc. (Hot Spring County) – $4.579 million
  • Wave Rural Connect LLC/Cox Communications LLC (Logan County) – $14.252 million
  • Connect2First Internet (Lonoke County) – $10.947 million