LITTLE ROCK Ark. (January 12, 2024) — The Arkansas State Broadband Office (ARConnect) is actively seeking public feedback on the draft of its Digital Skills and Opportunity Plan. The comprehensive plan was meticulously developed based on data from over 12,000 survey responses, 32 focus groups, and extensive in-person visits to all 75 counties throughout the summer. It aims to formulate an action plan to equip all Arkansans with the digital skills necessary to succeed in the 21-century digital economy.
All broadband stakeholders are encouraged to visit broadband.arkansas.gov, review the plan, and provide feedback by utilizing the public comment form. Additionally, ARConnect invites all Arkansans to attend one of the following informational events to provide feedback in person:
- Batesville: Jan. 18, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., 1652 White Dr.
- Prescott: Jan. 19, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 121 W Main St.
- Little Rock: Jan. 19, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., 120 River Market Ave.
Arkansas State Broadband Director Glen Howie emphasizes the significance of public participation, stating, “It is important that as many Arkansans as possible provide feedback on this draft plan. Every voice matters to ensure the state’s plan is effective and accounts for the unique challenges that different segments of the state population face.”
Arkansas received over $840,000 in funding to address its digital skills gap as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021. This funding is in addition to a $5 million investment to create a five-year action plan for internet access. ARConnect oversees all activities related to the development of both plans and is dedicated to ensuring reliable, high-speed internet access for every Arkansan.
To ensure comprehensive engagement, ARConnect has partnered with Heartland Forward, a Bentonville-based non-profit organization. ARConnect and Heartland Forward are coordinating with Arkansas counties, mayors, community members, and other key stakeholders across the state, including members of the Arkansas Connectivity Coalition (such as the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, Winrock International, Communities Unlimited, and the Arkansas Black Mayors Association). These partners have played a crucial role in conducting focus groups, disseminating surveys, and contributing to the draft plan.
The final Digital Skills and Opportunity Plan is slated for submission to the federal government later this month. Anticipating guidance from the National Telecommunication and Information Administration on $1.44 billion in capacity grants and an additional $1.25 billion in competitive grants for states later this year, ARConnect recognizes the strategic importance of the current planning process. The state’s report will position Arkansas competitively with other states and territories for additional investments to enhance digital opportunity across the state.