Governor Beebe’s weekly column: Getting Arkansas OnlineJune 13th, 2009 by Joe Burgess
Over the past two years, Arkansas has made great strides in health care, excellence in education, and ongoing economic development. However, we are not yet where we need to be when it comes to expanding access to broadband Internet connectivity, a resource that is critical to our achievement in all these important areas.
Arkansas has lagged behind the national standard for implementing broadband on a statewide level, but we’re working to change that. This past week I attended the Opportunity Online Broadband Summit, a joint initiative between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the public library systems of several states. Arkansas was selected to introduce a pilot program to improve and sustain high-speed Internet access in local libraries, especially in rural and underserved parts of the State. Our public libraries have been at the forefront of bridging the digital divide by delivering free Internet service to those who, otherwise, have no online access.
This project holds great potential, but is only one step toward our long-term goals. The real objective is to bring broadband telecommunications to every corner of the Natural State and raise the quality of life for all Arkansans.
In 2007, I signed the Connect Arkansas Broadband Act to help make this goal a reality. The Act established Connect Arkansas, a nonprofit corporation that is working to develop the competitive broadband infrastructure necessary for full coverage across the State, especially in our rural areas. Modeled after successful programs in Texas and North Carolina, Connect Arkansas evaluates the existing Internet capabilities and future opportunities for broadband deployment in our communities by mapping the speeds, connectivity, and infrastructure of our telecommunications network.
Because of our proactive approach to ensuring high-speed Internet access for all Arkansans, we may now also be in a position to receive special federal funds to accomplish that very goal. Although the details are still being worked out, the federal stimulus package contains grant monies that will be awarded to states, like Arkansas, that can make immediate investments to expand much-needed broadband access in the areas that would benefit most. Small businesses and global corporations, alike, rely on broadband to connect them to the worldwide marketplace, train their workforces, and facilitate the growth of their businesses. This federal funding could benefit Arkansas’s economic development long into the future.
Our future growth in Arkansas depends on how well we embrace the tools, skills, and resources necessary to remain competitive in the 21st century. We’ll continue to build our broadband infrastructure throughout the State, and we’ll do this not just because we intend for Arkansas to be competitive in the new, global economy – but because we intend for Arkansas to lead it.
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