Tag: "Arkansas"

Posted April 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Interest in community broadband and broadband service from cooperatives has grown significantly within the past few years. This legislative session, lawmakers in states such as Vermont, North Carolina, and Arkansas, have decided that they’d like to start contributing to new ways to bring better Internet access to their constituents. This week, Christopher and Jess Del Fiacco, our Communications Specialist, sit down to review some of the most recent state bills that we find promising.

Jess and Christopher talk about H 513 making it’s way through Vermont’s legislature. The bill contains policy changes and financial support designed to invigorate local broadband projects. H 513 was developed after state leaders examined the success of ECFiber, the regional network that brings gigabit connectivity to more than 20 communities in the central part of the state. 

The state of North Carolina’s FIBER NC ACT, which relaxes some of the state’s restrictions on local Internet network infrastructure investment, also comes up in the conversation. Christopher finds the bill a promising start to restoration of local telecommunications authority in North Carolina. State lawmakers are also considering another bill that will assist with pole issues.

Christopher and Jess spend some time examining what’s happening in Tallahassee, Florida, where city leaders have decided that they...

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Posted February 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.

Beginning Promise

For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.

Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available. 

seal-arkansas.png Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.

SB 150 is one of several bills introduced by the Republican Woman’s Legislative Caucus as part of their “Dream Big” initiative. Other bills in the initiative...

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Posted February 11, 2019 by lgonzalez

*Update: After amending the bill significantly, SB 150 passed through the Arkansas Senate to the House. We were initially excited because the original version of the bill reinstated local authority to develop publicly owned broadband networks. The amendment adopted in Committee, however, changed the bill to only allow communities that apply for and receive grants and loans to invest in community networks and only to specific areas and at the speeds defined in those grants and loans. We still consider it a step in the right direction, but the move forward is miniscule. Read the amended bill here.*

 

This session, a new force in the Arkansas State Legislature — the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus — has decided that they’ll take on the issue of poor connectivity. As part of their “Dream Big” initiative, they’ve introduced SB 150, a bill to restore local telecommunications authority.

"Dreaming Big" Means Bigger Broadband

The bill was introduced on January 23rd along with a suite of four other bills aimed at a variety of issues, including juvenile justice and education. Senator Breanne Davis of Russellville is the lead sponsor of SB 150, which would repeal restrictions preventing communities from developing broadband networks. Current law has an exception for communities that have a municipal electric utility but if SB 150 is adopted, any government entity will be able to offer high-quality connectivity.  

Legislators are focusing on opportunities for local communities to partner with private sector ISPs as a way to solve some of the poorest access to broadband in the country. They're also emphasizing that, if no partner wants to work with a government entity, this bill will allow a city, town, or county to invest on their own.

In a recent conversation with Talk Business & Politics, Davis described the impetus and goal of the bill: 

“About 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, so we decided to change that,” she said. “Our bill simply lifts the ban on cities and counties being able to either partner in a public-private partnership or go out on their own when no one will partner with them and apply...

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Posted September 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Arkansas who depend on Medicaid for healthcare typically don’t have the option to sign-up for affordable health insurance through their jobs. Sometimes they aren’t able to find full-time positions that offer healthcare or they don’t earn enough to afford the premiums in addition to covering life expenses for their families. With so many people offline, either because they can’t afford to pay for connectivity or because they live in areas where there is no connectivity, Arkansas seems like a poor choice for mandatory online reporting of anything, especially activity that dictates eligibility for Medicare. 

State leaders didn’t see it that way, however, when they implemented the policy in June. Medicaid recipients who are able to work must now go online to report at least 80 hours per month of activity; if they fail to do so, they lose access to the state's expanded Medicaid program. The activity can include volunteer work, job training, or several other categories of activities. While the issue of attaching work requirements to Medicaid eligibility has already been deemed arbitrary and capricious by a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, the lack of Internet access appears to be contributing to Arkansas’s dubious efforts to trim its enrollment.

logo-Medicaid.jpgLack of Coverage Complicates

In a state where at least 30 percent of the population has access to only one Internet service provider (ISP) and approximately 20 percent depend on their smart phones for Internet access, the only way to report the new work-related requirement is online. Under the guide of cost savings, the state has not established any other method for reporting for those who don’t have access to the Internet.

In addition to an environment that lags in competition, 17 percent of...

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Posted August 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

Rural electric cooperatives in Arkansas are stepping up and making the investments to bring broadband connectivity to their members. We recently described plans taking shape from North Arkansas Electric Cooperative. This month, construction began in the northeast region on infrastructure that will provide both broadband access and improved smart grid technology in the eight counties of Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation (CECC).

A Multi-Year Investment

The cooperative will deploy approximately 5,000 miles of fiber on utility poles and underground over the next five to seven years. Empower, a subsidiary of CECC, will offer Internet access to more than 30,000 members and non-members in its service area northwest of Memphis by the time construction is finished. FCC data has determined that about 44 percent of CECC’s members aren’t able to subscribe to broadband at the 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload minimum threshold because there is no option in their territory.

CECC wants to make use of smart grid technology in order to improve delivery of electric services. Since fiber optic Internet infrastructure and smart grid can exist hand-in-hand, and the region is in desperate need for better connectivity, CECC and Empower will offer high-speed Internet access where incumbents won’t.

The cooperative will spend approximately $100 - $110 million to complete the project; construction on the first phase began in July and should be finished by the end of 2018. In addition to the economic development benefits that will come to the region as the infrastructure attracts new business, 30 new permanent positions which will be created to manage and operate the network.

logo-empower.png Like many rural electric cooperatives, CECC began by local farmers. The Rural Electrification Act (REA) required that they sign up 612 members in the co-op...

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Posted July 19, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Residents of northern Arkansas will soon be able to obtain high-speed Internet access through their local electric cooperative. North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NAEC) recently received approval from its Board of Directors to expand its residential broadband pilot program, NEXT, Powered by NAEC. This expansion will bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and one gigabit speeds to the co-op’s entire service area. 

Origin of NEXT, Powered by NAEC

We first covered NEXT last year on Community Broadband Bits episode 243, when we talked to Mel Coleman, the CEO of NAEC.

While on the podcast, Coleman discussed how rural electric co-ops brought “the next greatest thing,” electricity, to their members. He views the provision of Internet services as following in the same historical tradition: “What we like to think is, ‘This is the next “next greatest thing,”’ and that is broadband in your home, true broadband.”

To bring broadband to their members, NAEC created the subsidiary NEXT to develop the fiber network and connect residences.

Developing a Successful Pilot

In 2016, the NEXT pilot program was launched in three locations in Baxter and Fulton counties. The pilot area included both urban and rural communities as well as portions of the small town of Salem, where NAEC is headquartered. Internet, voice, and video services were offered to approximately 1,500 co-op members within the pilot program’s targeted areas, according to the press release carried by Areawide News.

Since NAEC already owned a fiber backbone to manage its electrical system, the co-op simply had to build out from the existing infrastructure to connect residences. Eligible members could subscribe to symmetrical gigabit services for only $79.95 per month.

“We exceeded our goal of [pilot program] subscribers,” said Coleman, as quoted on the NAEC site, “and many have shared with us the benefits true broadband internet has brought to their families and businesses.”

What’s Next for NEXT?

Following the success of the pilot and the recent approval from the Board of...

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Posted November 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

Earlier this year, we shared the story of Clarksville, Arkansas, and described how they used supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) to make efficiencies in their municipal electric utility. The resulting fiber optic infrastructure reduced energy costs and allowed them to better manage other utilities but also gave Clarksville the opportunity to explore high-quality connectivity for the community. Their investment is paying off and bringing new jobs to Clarksville.

Stepping Up Economic Development

In a recent press release, the Clarksville Regional Economic Development Organization (CREDO) announced that Monro Shoe has entered into a partnership with Clarksville Light & Water (CL&W), the city, and CREDO to expand its production and add 25 new positions. The community’s gigabit fiber optic network played an instrumental role in the expansion. In addition to better connectivity, CL&W will provide an energy audit to help the company cut production costs.

Serving The Clarksville Community

Clarksville’s population is just under 10,000 with Tyson Foods, Haines, and motor control manufacturing processor Balder as some of the largest employers. University of the Ozarks also employs many of the people in Clarksville. CL&W plans to connect the University to the network in the near future.

Community leaders wanted to be sure to use the network to serve all sectors of Clarksville when they pounded out their plans for the network in 2015. They chose to allocate a designated number of strands each for educational facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety needs, and government facilities. The municipal utilities used another segment, and a sizable segment was left open for future economic development use, such as the connectivity arrangement for Munro Shoes. As Clarksville’s network serves more entities we expect to see more positions added to the community; after all, they're just getting started.

Learn more about how publicly owned networks bring better opportunity by perusing our economic development page.

Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems allow utility systems to gather and analyze real time data. The computer system reduces outages, keeps the utilities running efficiently, and allows staff to know where problems arise. Municipal utilities that use SCADA systems are increasingly taking the next step - using the fiber-optic infrastructure that supports SCADA to bring better connectivity to town. Clarksville took that route and is now considering ways to become one of the best connected communities in Arkansas.

"I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore"

As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is located in the northwest area of the state along I-40 and is home to just under 10,000 people living at the foothills of the Ozarks near the Arkansas River. The area is known for its scenery and its tasty peaches and every summer, the county holds a popular Peach Festival. The nearest urban areas are Little Rock, about 90 minutes to the east, and Fort Smith about an hour west. 

Large employers in the community include University of the Ozarks, Tyson Foods, Haines, and Baldor, a motor and control manufacturing processor. There’s also a Walmart Distribution Center in Clarksville.

When he began as General Manager of Clarksville Light and Water (CLW) in 2013, John Lester realized that one of the challenges the municipal electric utility faced was that it did not have a SCADA system for managing the electric, water, or wastewater system communications. Even though the Clarksville utility system was well cared for and managed, a SCADA system could push it to the next level in efficiency and services.

Lester had been instrumental in optimizing the use of the fiber-optic network in Chanute, Kansas, which had been developed for the municipal utilities. He understood the critical nature of fiber connectivity to utility efficiency, public savings, and economic development. Over time, the Chanute network had attracted new jobs, opened up educational opportunities for K-12 and college students, and created substantial savings. 

logo-peach-fest.jpeg In Clarksville, the utilities commission...

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Posted March 10, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 243 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Mel Coleman, the president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, explains how electric co-ops can provide high-quality, high-speed Internet service to their rural members. Listen to this episode here.

Mel Coleman: It is on fire and I think it something that most co-ops will, at the very least, be looking at very strongly within the next year or two, if they're not already.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 243 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week Mel Coleman joins Christopher for a talk on high-quality connectivity in America offered by rural electric cooperatives. Mel is CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and president of NRECA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The NRECA represents more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts, and public utility districts in the US. Mel and Chris get into the purposes of the organization and how broadband has become such a growing interest for cooperative members. They also discuss the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's new project to bring high-quality Internet access to its rural members with a phased approach. Mel shares information on their progress and their expectations. Learn more about the next project at naeci.com.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits, and I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around, and that's to jump on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you found this show, and to give us a rating, give us a little review, particularly if you like it. If you don't like it so much, then maybe don't do that; but, if you're enjoying this show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now, let's get on with the discussion. Here are Christopher and Mel Coleman, CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and...

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Posted March 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

As an increasing number of rural electric cooperatives are working to bring high-quality Internet access to their members, we’re learning more about new projects and the people behind them. This week, we talk with the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Mel Coleman. As an added bonus, we get Mel’s insight as President of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Mel and Christopher discuss the cooperative’s new NEXT pilot project to bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members. Residents can get symmetrical gigabit connectivity for $79.95 per month. Mel draws parallels between the ways rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural areas in the region and now how the cooperatives are meeting the demand for broadband.

As the President of NRECA, Mel sees how other regions of the country are turning to rural electric cooperatives for better Internet access. While many are just getting started and others are well on their way, some have chosen to wait to take the plunge into offering telecommunications services. Why is that? Because just like local communities, cooperatives reflect the unique appetites and needs of their members. Mel explains why the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative feels offering better connectivity to their region is a necessity.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 16 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is...

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