GOULD, Ark. – The Natural State not only lags in access to wired broadband but ranks dead last.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson released a four-year rural connectivity plan Wednesday to expand high-speed internet to communities with more than 500 people by 2022.
“Our internet here sucks,” said Betty Smith.
“I think it could be faster, especially when you get on something good and it takes forever to download,” said Barbara Jones.
Smith, 63, and Jones, 62, are lifetime residents of Gould, a rural city of about 800 people nestled in the Delta. The grandmas keep up with the times but argue their town is stuck in the past when it comes to technology.
“I’m fast on catching on anything,” Jones said. “I got a lot of grandkids so I gotta keep up.”
“We don’t have good reception,” Smith said. “We need to get what we’re paying for because we’re definitely paying for it.”
State maps in Hutchinson’s 77-page plan show areas like the Delta, along with the Ozark Mountains and southern timberlands, lag behind larger cities. The report focuses on federal grants for internet service providers (ISPs) to run new lines through cities like Gould to improve everything from agriculture to health care to education.
“It’ll be great for the kids,” Smith said. “They can go on the internet and search for jobs.”
“And they could help me because what I don’t know on the computer, they can help me learn,” Jones said.
State maps included in the report also show parts of urban areas, including the capital city, lack access to high-speed internet.
To see where your city stands, click here.
According to the governor’s office, the high-speed broadband would have a rate of 25 megabits per second for download and 3 megabits per second for upload, which is the minimum standard set by the Federal Communications Commission.
“Arkansas has already established itself as a national leader in providing high-speed, broadband connectivity to our schools,” Hutchinson said in a press release. “Today, as a result, our students are developing 21st-century skills in the classroom to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. Our focus now extends beyond our schools and into our rural communities. Equal access to high-speed broadband in rural Arkansas is a critical component to the success and longevity of our state’s economy, and I believe this plan will help us accomplish that goal within the next four years.”
In March, Hutchinson tasked the Arkansas Development Finance Authority Economic Policy Division to develop a state broadband plan with the help of stakeholders from the private and public sectors.
The governor’s office said telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives, utilities and internet service providers can cite the report when applying for federal grants to expand broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural parts of the state.