Weekly Columns

Connecting Arkansas

Aug 03 2016

When Dr. Juston Evenson moved his family from Missouri to Arkansas in 2013, he and his wife bought a house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Van Buren. The Evensons were intent on homeschooling their young children, but they ran into a hurdle: access to reliable internet. While the family can get satellite internet service, it’s inefficient for online coursework, forcing the family to reevaluate its decision to homeschool.

Arkansans across the state are struggling with the same problem. High-speed internet access is one of the most important resources for modern life. Businesses conduct important transactions online. The majority of college applications—and decisions—are conducted through email and online systems. The speed of current daily activity has accelerated so much that having access to quick and reliable broadband internet service is vital to the health and success of Arkansans. Unfortunately, this is a luxury for most people in our state.

Arkansas is ranked as the 48th most connected state according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with only 49 percent of Arkansans having access to the minimum speed of wired broadband that experts agree is functional, 25 megabits per second. More than one million Arkansans don’t have access to a wired connection with this speed. That’s not to mention the fastest type of internet, known as fiber-optic, which only 6.6 percent of Americans can access.

Expanding broadband and fiber-optic internet service doesn’t just improve access to information and small businesses—it has clear and obvious economic benefits. Thousands of jobs are created to build the infrastructure needed, and as businesses become more competitive, employment expands by 300,000 jobs with every percentage point increase in broadband distribution.

I'm determined to extend this service to all Arkansans, regardless of where they live. In order to help, I joined a bipartisan group of senators in asking the FCC to continue to prioritize funding for broadband internet in rural areas and to upgrade already existing access. We asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to ensure that the commission keep the access and rights of rural Arkansans at the forefront of plans to expand and build better internet infrastructure.

I’m also helping lead efforts to strengthen broadband in Arkansas and across the country by establishing the Senate Broadband Caucus. At the launch in July, I stressed the importance of this work for rural Americans, especially as it affects Arkansans disproportionately to the national average. Having the ability to get online is as essential as having modern roads and bridges, and that’s why I am proud to work with my colleagues to provide rural Arkansans this much needed service.

Arkansans rely on access to this building block. Internet is an essential resource that is transforming how we communicate, do business, learn and administer health care. Families like the Evensons depend on it for educating their children. We must help make this a reality.