Tag: "Arkansas"

Posted January 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

On Monday, a new bill introduced into the Arkansas State Legislature has the potential, if passed, to remove almost all existing barriers to municipal broadband in the state. SB 74 was introduced in the 93rd General Assembly, Regular Session 2021 by State Senators Breanne Davis and Ricky Hill and their counterparts Representatives Brian Evans and Deann Vaught. 

The legislation would substantially amend the state’s Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, which in most scenarios bans government entities from building and owning networks and delivering services to residents in pursuit of promoting competition and bringing Internet access to unconnected parts of the state.

SB 74 keeps an existing ban on providing basic local exchange service in place (i.e. telephone), but otherwise allows municipalities to build, buy, and operate network infrastructure to deliver digital voice, broadband, data, and wireless telecommunications service to anyone in the state. 

Slow Progress in Recent Years

Currently in Arkansas, municipalities are allowed to build or partner with private companies to build broadband infrastructure, but only if they acquire a grant or loan to do so and only do so in unserved areas. When policy veterans last commented on these particulars of the legislative landscape in 2019, they were worried that such geographic and financing restrictions would effectively preclude new networks, and they were right. 

SB 74 eliminates these two restrictions, which represents a significant step forward. It also adds consolidated utility districts to the list of eligible entities, removes the requirement to file a public notice, and dramatically expands the emergency services clause to include healthcare services, education, and “other essential services.”

This is not the first time State Senator Davis and fellow lawmakers have attempted to fix the state’s broken regulatory environment. In early 2019, SB 150 sought to do many of the same things, but in the end was altered by amendments such that it only allowed government entities to deploy broadband in unserved areas and only if they received...

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Posted January 4, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A host of cities and counties in Arkansas are about to get a major broadband boost thanks to local officials taking steps to act on a grant program deployed by the state last year. Borne out of the state’s 2020 1st Extraordinary Session at the end of March 2020 in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the new Rural Broadband I.D. Expenses Trust Fund Grant Program will disburse $2 million in funds divided into 30 one-time grants of $75,000 each to towns, cities, and counties to tackle the digital divide in the Toothpick State. The program is financed via Arkansas’ Restricted Reserve Fund with money given to the state by the CARES Act, and is administered by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. And while an array of projects have been awarded funds, money remains available and applications are being accepted on a rolling basis for those who have yet to take advantage.

A Win for Local Self-Reliance and Increasing Competition

The program is expressly designed to bridge the gap for communities that want to begin to improve local Internet access but are stymied by a necessary first step: paying for those economic, design, and feasibility analyses which require pulling together the wide range of options available in the context of local conditions. That’s where this program comes in, according to Rachel Ott, the UAMS Institute’s for Digital Health and Innovation Grant Director. Communities can use the work produced to apply for federal grants down the road, including the recently concluded Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, funds from the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and any other forthcoming federal funding programs. 

Cities, towns, counties, and unincorporated communities are all eligible to apply. Non-profits and for-profit entities are also eligible to apply, but only in unincorporated communities. If they want to undertake projects in cities or towns, they are required to...

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Posted December 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The cities of Sherwood, Tull and Ward, Little River and Perry counties, the Eagle Ridge Property Owners Association in Pulaski County, and Kick Start Sheridan all got state grants to study broadband in pursuit of building infrastructure to create competition, encourage economic development, and bring Internet access to the unserved. It's part of the Rural Broadband ID grants program, which is seeing lots of activity since August.

Posted November 12, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

OzarksGo, the fober subsidiary of the Arkansas-based Ozarks Electric Cooperative, has connected its 20,000th subscriber. It plans to bring its fiber service to every user in its electric footprint by the end of 2021.

Posted October 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted. 

The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:

The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500. 

The Deep South Hit Hardest

As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page). 

Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).  

At this point the decision seems only to affect those subscribing to the company’s ADSL service. Those subscribing to ADSL2 and asymmetric VDSL won’...

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Posted May 19, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic pushed schools online, rural cooperatives and other local broadband providers have been coming up with innovative ways to connect students during this difficult time. Ozarks Electric Cooperative, with its broadband subsidiary OzarksGo, is one of the co-ops that caught our eye over the past few weeks with its creative solution.

This week, Christopher speaks with Steven Bandy, General Manager of OzarksGo, about the history of the co-op's fiber network and its new efforts to expand broadband access during the pandemic. They discuss the beginnings of Ozarks Electric's Fiber-to-the-Home network and the co-op's plan to connect all of its members in growing Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. OzarksGo has even expanded into a nearby city where it doesn't offer electric service after seeing that the community needed better quality connectivity. Co-op members are extremely enthusasitc about the co-op's fiber network, and Steven explains how people moving to the area target the Ozarks Electric service territory in their home search.

Christopher and Steven also talk about the effects of the pandemic on the co-op's fiber network, which has seen an increase in interest. Steven shares how the cooperative is partnering with a local school district to connect Wi-Fi hotspots on busses and in community buildings with fiber optic backhaul. In addition to bringing broadband access to students in response to Covid-19, OzarksGo has also increased speeds at no cost to subscribers.

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

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Posted April 15, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Two more electric cooperatives recently announced plans to build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to connect their rural members in the southeastern United States with high-quality Internet access.

The co-ops, Mississippi County Electric Cooperative (MCEC) in Arkansas and Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) in Mississippi, will partner with Conexon to manage network design, buildout, and implementation. Conexon has worked with dozens of rural electric cooperatives across the country to deploy broadband access to better serve their member-owners.

Rural communities in the southeast have long struggled with unreliable, unaffordable connectivity, and the current Covid-19 pandemic is further amplifying the health, education, and economic disparities that result from inequitable Internet access. But rural cooperatives, in the region and beyond, are stepping up to meet their members’ broadband needs.

Arkansas Co-op Continues Through Crisis

Big Lake Wildlife Refuge AR

Late last month in a Conexon press release, MCEC announced that it was launching a new subsidiary, MCEC Fiber, to offer its members Internet access with speeds up to one Gigabit per second symmetrical. With its new 600-mile fiber network, MCEC will join several other electric co-ops in Arkansas, including Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation, that have invested in broadband infrastructure for their communities.

MCEC President and CEO Brad Harrison said in the release:

We have long seen the need of our members and communities for reliable and fast internet service, given that it has become a necessity in many parts of life . . . This network is important for our community, and Conexon opened our eyes to the fact that not only could we provide the service, but we could offer a gold-plated solution...

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Posted March 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU) in Clarksville, Arkansas, knows a thing or two about the value of a municipal broadband network.

“Just keeping the dollars in Clarksville is gonna have a big impact. Do you have a calculator handy?” Lester asked me, when I called him earlier this month to learn more about the city’s planned foray into residential broadband services.

“Let me talk you through something,” he replied, after I said I did. “Let’s say we’ve got 4,500 potential customers and 75 percent of them get high-speed Internet, in some fashion. What’s that number?”

From there, he ran through a handful of calculations to illustrate the economic benefit of Clarksville’s new Fiber-to-the-Home network. Assuming residents save about $20 per month and the savings continue to circulate locally, the network could grow the city’s economy by $4 million every year.

“That stays in our consumers’ pockets right here in Clarksville, Arkansas,” Lester explained. “There is an economic impact today and every year going forward.”

Residential broadband service is only the most recent evolution for Clarksville’s municipal fiber network, which already connects utility infrastructure as well as area businesses and community anchor institutions in the city of nearly 10,000. Home installations are due to start soon, depending on delays caused by the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Starting With a Plan

CCU logoClarksville’s fiber journey began in 2016 when the city utilities department (which rebranded last year to Clarksville Connected Utilities) deployed a SCADA system to connect its electric, water, and wastewater systems. At the time, Lester was already thinking about how the rest of Clarksville could benefit from the utility’s fiber network, drawing on his prior experience as the city manager of Chanute, Kansas. “We absolutely needed a communications system for our utility infrastructure,” he explained, “but we leaned strongly on one of Stephen Covey’s...

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Posted August 8, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Update: As of May 25, 2021, only 17 states retained their municipal barriers. Arkansas and Washington have removed theirs.

Municipal broadband networks already serve more than 500 communities across the country, but some states are trying to keep that number from growing. Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide.

These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. From Alabama to Wisconsin, states have implemented everything from direct prohibitions on municipal networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements that limit competition.

The outlook for municipal connectivity may be starting to improve though, despite incorrect reports that state-level broadband preemption increased over the past year. Baller Stoke & Lide’s list of states with restrictions on municipal broadband investment actually shrunk this year from 20 states to 19 — a result of downgrading Colorado’s SB 152 from bonafide barrier to mere annoyance. Still, barriers to community networks remain in more than a third of all states, leaving millions of Americans unconnected and tens of millions more without local Internet choice.

Bans, Blocks, and Burdens

Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a bird’s nest of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.

Out of the 19 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their...

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Posted July 30, 2019 by Lisa Gonzalez

John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities in Arkansas, was on our show several years ago to talk about his work in Chanute, Kansas. Since then, he’s moved on to Clarksville to bring the community's infrastructure up-to-date with fiber. In this interview, John brings along Brian Eisele, President and CEO of the Clarksville - Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, to offer additional perspective.

Clarksville began by introducing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to their utilities. In only a few years, they’ve expanded to use the fiber optic infrastructure for improved connectivity for public facilities and businesses. They’re now focusing on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project to offer fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to all premises in the city. John discusses the city’s investigation into the risks, rewards, and possible models as they worked with consultants to develop a plan. John also shares some of the possible plans for the future of Clarksville Connected Utilities and the surrounding area.

As a local entrepreneur and member of the community interested in driving economic development, Brian Eisele describes the ways the network impacts businesses and residents. He shares some of his own experiences along with other stories of growth related to the presence of the fiber network.

Read more about Clarksville’s network and the community.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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