From the hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Every time there’s a meeting at the Capitol, sooner or later the discussion gets around to broadband, and how can we expand access to broadband in all corners of Arkansas.
Some areas of Arkansas are well covered, but in other parts of the state the Internet connections are incredibly slow. In some areas, there is no Internet access at all.
About 235,000 Arkansans live in areas that have no broadband service, or it is inadequate and slow.
The legislature is committed to providing broadband to every corner of the state. Rural communities need the Internet or their schools will not be able to compete.
Physicians and hospitals transmit medical records, X-rays and CT scans over the Internet, so broadband is essential for adequate health care.
Job creation is an uphill battle in areas without the Internet. Can you name an industry that doesn’t rely on computer technology and the Internet?
The White House and Congress agreed on a stimulus package that includes more than $1.5 billion in funding for Arkansas state government.
The state Commerce Department has asked the legislature for approval to spend $150 million to upgrade our system of Internet service in areas where it is lacking.
Those upgrades will mainly be the installation of fiber optic cables.
However, the Legislative Council hit the pause button.
Few programs are as popular as expansion of Internet capability, but lawmakers realized that we need a statewide plan before we start spending enormous amounts of money.
I like the analogy of building the interstate highway system, back in the 1950s. The federal government provided the funding for states to build four-lane highways.
However, each individual state built interstates according to a plan, so that the highways would connect in a nationwide system.
Legislators want to build according to a similar plan, before we start spending money on new Internet connections.
The desire for better planning was a factor in the Legislative Council’s decision to approve about $31 million on 17 new broadband projects.
We already have 76 projects ongoing, so we’re making steady progress.
I understand why community leaders are in a hurry. Broadband today can be compared to electric power in the 1930s.
In rural areas without electric power, only a few types of employment existed, mainly on farms and cutting timber.
There were huge inequalities in the quality of life for people who lived in cities, compared to people who lived in the country.
But the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 changed all that. It changed life as we know it in the South, by providing electric power to rural and remote areas.
Now, we’re doing the same with high speed Internet access, and we’re doing it with deliberate speed, according to a well thought out plan.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Senator Keith Ingram.