Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday tapped Department of Commerce researcher Nathan Smith to manage a statewide effort to provide by 2022 high-speed broadband in all communities with more than 500 residents.
That effort, announced by the governor in May, is expected to rely mostly on federal dollars along with private investments targeting rural communities to reduce the state’s Internet-access gap with the rest of the nation.
Among all states, Arkansas ranks last in access to wired broadband, with only about 75% of residents hooked up to such systems, according to the website broadbandnow.com. Nationally, 92% of Americans have access to wired broadband.
The 77-page Broadband Plan was drafted by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority’s Economic Policy Division, which was led by Smith until he joined the newly created Commerce Department on July 1.
Under a new law set to go into effect today, the governor has the authority to appoint a state broadband manager. Previously, that role has been filled by the director of the Information Systems Division. The person now in that role is Yessica Jones.
The governor’s office said in a statement Tuesday that Smith will continue to serve in his new role as research director at the Commerce Department while overseeing the broadband plan.
Smith’s annual salary will remain at $110,255, according to the governor’s office.
Smith said Tuesday that he plans to spend about half of his time working on the state’s Broadband Plan.
Smith said that much of that time would be focused on securing federal grants, including money from a proposed $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that is awaiting approval by the Federal Communications Commission.
If Arkansas gets its share of federal grant projects, “that would have a very big impact” on meeting the goals set by the Broadband Plan, Smith said.
In his Tuesday news release, the governor called an expansion of rural broadband services “critical to the long-term success of our state’s economy.”
“Earlier this year, I asked Dr. Smith to lead the development of a broadband plan for Arkansas that would achieve that goal within the next four years. Dr. Smith’s leadership in that effort, as well his knowledge and experience, make him the perfect fit to be the state’s first Broadband Manager,” the governor said.
Arkansas’ broadband plan defines high-speed broadband Internet as achieving download speeds of 25 megabits per second, which is enough to download a song in a second.
According to the Broadband Plan, an estimated 641,000 Arkansans lack a wired Internet connection capable of such speeds.
Metro on 07/24/2019
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