States Award More Grants for Rural Broadband Studies

Access to high-speed internet in rural areas of the United States has long been a problem. With an increased number of people continuing to work from home and many schools still conducting remote or hybrid learning, families have a great need for fast internet. They not only need fast upload and download speeds, but they also need reliable service that doesn't drop. On December 18, the Arkansas Legislative Council approved grant funds for studies of broadband needs in the cities of Sherwood, Tull and Ward. It also funded studies in Little River and Perry Counties. The council also provided programs with funding. These were the Eagle Ridge Property Owners Association located in Pulaski County and Kick Start, which is in the community of Sheridan.

How the Grants Can Be Used

These rural broadband study grants are designed to help incorporated towns, unincorporated areas and cities to pay for needs assessments of the local internet service. The studies are required by the internet service providers. A study must be done in order for a community to apply for and receive federal grants or loans to pay for broadband infrastructure.

How the Grants Are Funded

The grants for rural broadband internet needs assessment studies are paid for from the CARES Act. The CARES Act was passed in March in order to provide economic relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools and businesses closed their doors early in the pandemic. This resulted in a high need for fast and reliable internet service for students and employees who were told to work from home.

What Cities Can Do With the Funds

Cities, communities and groups can use the grand funds to conduct internet needs assessments. Once the needs assessment is complete, they can apply for funding from one or more of the many federal programs that offer loans or grants for internet infrastructure. These programs include the United States Department of Agriculture's Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program, The United States Department of Agriculture farm bill and the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Program.

Which Entities Are Approved to Conduct the Needs Assessments

In Arkansas, there are two entities with approval to conduct the needs assessments. These are First Electric Cooperative and Connect 2 First Internet. Other entities have also applied for contracts to conduct the needs assessments.

Why People Need Better Internet in Rural Areas

Small towns need good broadband services in order to grow. Without reliable internet, these small communities are essentially cut off from the rest of the world. In a time when people are told to stay at home, work from home or attend school on a remote basis, they need the technology and infrastructure in place. They also need broadband to be affordable.

What the Communities Have Planned

Communities receiving these grants had to explain their specific plans in their applications. Little River County plans to use its funds to help with the development of a fiber-to-the-home broadband network. It will partner with a company called Extreme Broadband to provide high-speed internet service. The engineering consultant on their project will be CT&T Engineering, which is a local engineering firm. Little River County's population is 12,417, and its small towns and unincorporated areas don't currently have access to high-speed broadband internet service.

The Kick Start Sheridan group developed a plan for the city of Sheridan, the city's school district and Grant County as a whole. The entity will hire a consulting firm to do the feasibility study. Once the study is complete, the entity will meet with different internet service providers to get bids for building the infrastructure and delivering the service. The plan includes creating priorities for the area's small businesses and residents to gain access to high-speed internet.

Past Arkansas Grants for Rural Broadband Studies

In the first round of rural broadband studies, Arkansas issued grants to Howard and Polk Counties. It also provided grants for the towns of Benton and Cabot. All of the counties received $75,000. Benton and Cabot received $40,000.

Other States Receiving Rural Broadband Study Grant Funds

Arkansas is not the only state to receive grants for conducting broadband studies in rural areas. North Carolina also received funds on Friday. The state will use its funds to conduct studies in Sampson, Duplin and Johnston Counties. Pennsylvania and Minnesota also received grant funding, as did other states with considerable rural populations.

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