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Faster internet and connectivity coming to WM, rural areas

West Memphis mayor meets with Arkansas Connectivity Coalition

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West Memphis mayor meets with Arkansas Connectivity Coalition

By DON WILBURN

[email protected]

West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon met last week with the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition, a group of more than 15 local organizations committed to expanding high speed broadband internet access in Arkansas. This group was created to help support the state and local communities to plan and secure federal dollars needed to expand access and ensure high-speed internet is more accessible and affordable across the state.

The Treasury Department announced last month that five more states, Arkansas among them, will receive grants from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to finance new broadband development. The $10-billion total fund, part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan of 2021, is seen by the department as a “precursor” to the $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. Arkansas will receive $47.5 million for the project.

“Reliable high-speed internet is crucial to the economic vitality of our state,” said Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. “From schoolchildren connecting to lesson plans to businesses and industries connecting to get the job done, connectivity is no longer a luxury. For the past eight years, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that Arkansans have the skills necessary to compete – and win – in the global economy, and the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition is the latest piece of the puzzle to make that goal a reality. We are grateful to the public, private and non-profit stakeholders around the state who are working together to support efforts to ensure all Arkansans are playing on an equal technology field.”

The first major effort of the Coalition is the launch of Accelerate Arkansas, a planning and capacity building program developed with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This organization will help Arkansas communities learn how to plan and use the historic broadband infrastructure funding for broadband expansion. The inaugural pilot cohort of the program includes Cleveland County, Elaine, Hughes, West Memphis and Keo, and has already begun in many of those communities.

See INTERNET, page A3

McCLENDON INTERNET

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“Having access to a highspeed, reliable internet service is crucial for working, learning and living in the 21st century, but too many families across Arkansas simply don’t have the connectivity they need,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer of Heartland Forward. “The Arkansas Connectivity Coalition shares a common purpose of working to close the digital divide and ensure Arkansas is building a future that leverages high-speed internet to improve economic opportunity, education and health outcomes and effective delivery of services. We are proud to launch Accelerate Arkansas as our first initiative, a program that has already proven successful in other parts of the heartland.”

The program works to prepare communities for establishing and implementing a full-scale broadband connectivity vision. Through over 30 hours of expert counsel provided by the Benton Institute, the program offers structured engagement for communities to identify broadband goals, gather data, understand available funding options and target capital dollars to support implementation.

“We are honored to collaborate with the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition and Heartland Forward to work with unserved and underserved communities in a process modeled after a successful program designed by the Blandin Foundation for Minnesota,” said Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

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