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Steering Committee Approves $150 Million For Further Broadband Expansion

Governor's Office

The state committee in charge of allocating federal funding from the American Rescue Plan approved $150 million to go towards broadband efforts, with an additional $150 million to possibly be approved in a later meeting.

The Arkansas American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Steering Committee met for the second time on Wednesday and spent over an hour discussing the $300 million request from the state’s Department of Commerce to go towards broadband expansion.

In speaking on the request, Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston recalled the millions of federal dollars previously spent on broadband as a part of the CARES Act.

"$120 million is what was utilized from the CARES funding. Those funds were deployed in less than a year’s time and that brought access to 130,000 Arkansans who did not have broadband before," Preston said. "So, 130,000 people in our state who previously did not have access now have access to broadband because of the work that the CARES Steering Committee did and through the Office of Broadband and the Department of Commerce were able to do that."

Preston also said the state continued to take applications even after the funding from the CARES Act concerning broadband ran out, proving a need for even more broadband funding in the state.

According to Preston, around $150 million of the newly requested funding would go towards more immediate broadband access projects, while the other half represents the what the department "anticipates" they would need for broadband funding in the future.

During the first meeting of the new steering committee, Gov. Asa Hutchinson categorized broadband expansion as a more "immediate need" for the state as opposed to a long-term one.

Several members of the committee expressed a desire to see a plan for how the second $150 million would be spent on broadband before signing off on it, including Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, who pointed out the longer timeframe the state has to spend the money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

"Different from the CARES Act, they’ve given us a long fuse to do this. We don’t have to do this within ten or twelve months, I mean we’ve got a number of years to get this right. I just, I worry about rushing into something real quick with this," Ingram said.

Stacy Hurst, Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, made the motion to approve $150 million of the request now and leaving the possibility open for the more funding in the future, which the committee then passed.

Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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