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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen GOVERNOR SPEAKS: Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at the Arkansas Rural Economic Development Conference Thursday at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Hutchinson shared his goals for bringing high-speed broadband internet to rural communities across the state by 2022.

On the heels of his announcement to expand access to high-speed broadband internet throughout the state, Gov. Asa Hutchinson expounded on his goals Thursday at the Arkansas Rural Development Conference.

The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen DISCUSSION: Governor Asa Hutchinson speaks with Amanda Ashworth of Fayetteville, left, and Phillip Owens, right, of Booneville at the Arkansas Rural Economic Development Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center on Wednesday.
The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen DISCUSSION: Governor Asa Hutchinson speaks with Amanda Ashworth of Fayetteville, left, and Phillip Owens, right, of Booneville at the Arkansas Rural Economic Development Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center on Wednesday.

Hutchinson told those in attendance at the conference's closing luncheon that the state's future success relies on the success of its rural communities. Access to high-speed broadband internet and changes to emergency communication systems are key components of that success.

On Wednesday, the governor's office released a 77-page report outlining the importance of broadband access across the state.

"High-speed rural broadband that allows our rural communities to have a quality of life so that people can live in your community and they can begin to have access to a global world," he said. "They can have access to news and information whether it's shopping or otherwise. ... You don't want rural parts of Arkansas penalized because they do not have high-speed broadband internet."

The governor said the first stage of this goal happened in the last four years when Arkansas "became one of the first states to connect with high-speed broadband into all the schools" across the state.

"Every school district, every school, met the federal standard and passed that for access to high-speed broadband in the schools," he said. "That allows them to do more research. It allows them to do testing online. It allows them to do their computer science work, their coding work. But as (students) go home, then they see that they don't have the same access. If they want to work on a project, they go to the library. They're not able to do it in their home.

"So the first stage was to connect all the schools and we did that. The second stage I announced (Wednesday), and that is the goal to have high-speed broadband in every community in Arkansas with at least 500 residents by the year 2022."

The high-speed broadband would have a rate of 25 megabits per second per download and 3 megabits per second per upload which Hutchinson said is "the kind of speed that we need in our communities that will serve our residents."

"Not only did we announce the goal, but yesterday, we released the state broadband plan, 77 pages which provides a road map as to how we're going to reach that goal," Hutchinson said. "It was very inclusive with the private sector. They helped us to shape this because they're the key partners who are going to help us to accomplish this. And today I signed letters in support of applications for funding by ... the private sector providers that are going to be working in your community and we want to get as much money for them as we can.

"This is coming from the USDA that has put a lot of money toward expanding rural broadband. The fact that we have the plan, the state plan, the goals in place will allow them to maximize their grant funding to be able to invest in the expansion in your neighborhood."

For communities with a population less than 500, Hutchinson said "we have the fiber laid and the system laid for our schools, and now we're going to insist upon and set a goal for laying that and having access built on that in our rural communities 500 residents or more."

"Once you build that, it makes it a lot easier to expand and get it to every community in Arkansas."

Additionally, the governor said when legislators entered the session earlier this year, the need for more funding for the state's 911 systems and an upgrade to AWIN were priorities.

"One of the key accomplishments of this session was the reform of our 911 system, adequate funding of that program as well as increased funding for our AWIN systems to modernize our communication systems for law enforcement," he said. "This should help you in your community, but it will also be more efficient. The fact that we're replacing the Emergency Telephone Services Board with the new Arkansas 911 Board and that we're going to be modernizing both of these systems and reforming them, as well."

Hutchinson said looking at the state's economic numbers and growth, he has not shied away from the fact he wants to see Arkansas grow.

"I want us to grow economically. I want us to grow in numbers. And that is not just simply in the urban areas of our state. I want the rural areas of our state to be not only a great quality of life, a great place to raise a family and to get an education, but I want you to be able to prosper and be able to create jobs and create opportunity," he said. "I have conversations with each of you and I know that's your heart as well for your own individual communities."

In 2015, the Division of Rural Services merged with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, not to diminish it, but to elevate what Economic Development provides for rural communities across the state, he said.

"As we develop policy in Arkansas ... we've got legislators here that would not let me forget -- that I would never forget -- the important role that our rural communities (play) and as we develop policy, we've got to keep them in mind," Hutchinson said.

Local on 05/17/2019

Print Headline: Governor shares broadband plan goals

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