State broadband office seeking public input on digital skills plan

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 570 views 

The Arkansas State Broadband Office, ARConnect, is actively seeking public feedback on the draft of its Digital Skills and Opportunity Plan.

The plan was developed based on data from over 12,000 survey responses, 32 focus groups, and in-person visits to all 75 counties throughout the summer. It aims to formulate an action plan to equip all Arkansans with the digital skills necessary to succeed in the 21-century digital economy.

All broadband stakeholders are encouraged to visit broadband.arkansas.gov, review the plan, and provide feedback by utilizing the public comment form. Additionally, ARConnect invites all Arkansans to attend one of the following informational events to provide feedback in person:

Batesville: Jan. 18, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., 1652 White Dr.
Prescott: Jan. 19, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 121 W Main St.
Little Rock: Jan. 19, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., 120 River Market Ave.

“It is important that as many Arkansans as possible provide feedback on this draft plan. Every voice matters to ensure the state’s plan is effective and accounts for the unique challenges that different segments of the state population face,” said Arkansas State Broadband Director Glen Howie.

Arkansas received over $840,000 in funding to address its digital skills gap as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021. This funding is in addition to a $5 million investment to create a five-year action plan for internet access. ARConnect oversees all activities related to the development of both plans.

ARConnect has partnered with Heartland Forward, a Bentonville-based non-profit organization. ARConnect and Heartland Forward are coordinating with Arkansas counties, mayors, community members, other key stakeholders across the state, and members of the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition, which includes the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, Winrock International, Communities Unlimited, and the Arkansas Black Mayors Association.

The final Digital Skills and Opportunity Plan is slated for submission to the federal government later this month and anticipates guidance from the National Telecommunication and Information Administration on $1.44 billion in capacity grants and an additional $1.25 billion in competitive grants for states later this year.

The Arkansas State Broadband Office, housed within the Arkansas Department of Commerce, was created in 2019 to coordinate the state’s broadband-related activities.