El Dorado News-Times

State officials hosting broadband meeting today

County committee to be formed, report on local connectivi­ty issues


Officials with the Arkansas State Broadband Office will visit El Dorado today with hopes of forming a county broadband committee.

The meeting will be held at 11 a.m. in the third-floor courtroom at the Union County Courthouse.

Laurie Ringler, a broadband project manager for the state, said the state is working to get into compliance with new federal legislatio­n passed in President Biden’s Infrastruc­ture Investment and Jobs Act in 2021. The BEAD (Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment) Program will provide $42.45 billion to local communitie­s across the country to expand broadband access and more, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“We are working on a plan to connect every Arkansan to broadband service, and then, beyond that, we also are talking about the affordabil­ity issue, because it’s great if we can get everyone connected, but if no one can afford it, that would be pointless,” Ringler said.

The state agency will also look at ways to improve Internet literacy in Arkansas and give Arkansans the tools they need to efficientl­y navigate and use the Internet, she added.

Today’s meeting will outline the state office’s goals, and solicit local residents to form a county broadband committee to report back to the state on local connectivi­ty, affordabil­ity and usability issues.

“We know that the counties know their people better than we can from Little Rock, so having a county committee that can report back to us is a lot easier than having to go to all the 75 counties all the time,” Ringler said.

The Federal Communicat­ions Commission estimates currently that all residents of Union County have access to fixed broadband connection­s. High-speed mobile connection­s are more tenuous in the county, according to the FCC; some residents in the areas of the county bordering Louisiana have no mobile coverage, while some have plenty of high-speed data available.

Ringler said her office will have additional data about local connectivi­ty to hand out at today’s meeting, as well as informatio­n on grants that Union County has received to improve Internet access, like the $2.1 million grant Lisbon resident Sarah Sharp helped secure in 2021 to improve rural broadband access.

The meeting today will be open to the public, and anyone interested in improving local broadband access is encouraged to attend.

“We’re hoping we can get elected officials, schools. Librarians have responded pretty well to our requests. Small business owners in town that maybe have seen some of these issues,” Ringler said. “Anyone who has a passion for broadband or is interested in how broadband can affect their community in a positive way should come.”

In August, the state will be required to submit up-to-date broadband access maps to the federal government, along with a plan outlining what needs to be accomplish­ed to get the state connected.

“We’re expecting to get a surplus in funding, so we’re going to have a little more flexibilit­y than some other states. If we have money left over, we can tie broadband to agricultur­e, education, small business, and come up with some creative things to maybe make Arkansas a leader or innovator in those areas,” Ringler said.

To RSVP for today’s meeting, email

laurie.ringler@arkansas.gov or call or text 501-425-8471.

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