Arkansans without broadband underestimated by FCC, researcher says

National broadband reports are a mess, and the cost of providing high-speed internet to underserved rural areas is even more complicated.

BroadbandNow, an independent research and advocacy group that monitors nationwide broadband deployment, reports that more than one million Arkansans do not have broadband service, contradicting Federal Communications Commission estimates according to which 574,000 households are not served.

The number is important because it will determine the final cost of providing broadband to these homes. Right now, there is wide disagreement in the state over how much money to spend on closing the broadband gap.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his Commerce Department were pinned down in the wrestling match with legislative leaders recently over the amount of federal money needed to improve broadband service in the state.

The administration was seeking $ 150 million, which would only have allowed the deployment of 150,000 Arkansans, but surrendered after legislative resistance. The governor worked with the Arkansas Legislative Council on a compromise spending $ 30 million for deployment on about 17 projects.

It’s a start, but there is still a long way to go if the BroadbandNow analysis is correct.

To assess the deployment, the FCC sends a form to providers asking operators to certify the census blocks they cover with broadband service.

The problem, however, is that a provider will check a box indicating that it covers a census block, but that does not necessarily mean that every household in that census block is receiving broadband service. Still, the carrier gets credits for the entire block.

The average census block in the United States ranges from 600 to 3,000 people. So if a provider provides broadband to 60 households in a census block of 600, the FCC counts that as 600 households receiving broadband.

BroadbandNow entered specific home addresses to test the FCC data and discovered the discrepancies.

“The key thing we’re comparing is the accuracy of the census block data against the reality of the address-level data,” said Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of BroadbandNow. “The reality is that there are houses and addresses that slip through the cracks.”

There are consistent errors in the FCC’s approach, according to Cooper. “In the case of Arkansas, an error is made 22% of the time in the FCC’s estimate,” he said.

Ultimately, that means nearly 500,000 Arkansans are not receiving the service, but the FCC measurement indicates they are.

BroadbandNow conducted a manual survey of 1,000 Arkansas households to determine the error rate and get a more accurate reading of who is receiving broadband service and who is not.

The cost of providing services to the million Arkansans, many of whom are in hard-to-reach rural areas?

“It is very, very difficult to predict the costs of the proliferation of broadband with any statistical precision,” Cooper said. “We’re really talking about a mixed deployment. Arkansas doesn’t use any technology or infrastructure. And then the technologies haven’t stabilized in price at all.”

Conclusion: it is too difficult to evaluate because the costs vary according to the technology used. Today there are many ways to deliver broadband including fixed wireless, fiber to the home, satellites in orbit, traditional networks like cable and DSL or 5G, which is the latest cellular technology.

Nationally, the FCC estimates that approximately 14.5 million Americans do not have high-speed Internet access. BroadbandNow, however, puts that number at 43.6 million, about triple what the federal agency is predicting.

The full study is available on broadnow.com.

CAPITAL GAINS

Arkansas Capital Corporation received a $ 1.2 million grant from the US Treasury Department to boost lending to small businesses crippled by the coronavirus.

The Little Rock Lender is one of 860 community development financial institutions selected to receive rapid response grants from the federal agency.

Arkansas Capital plans to use the funding to reach underserved entrepreneurial markets in Arkansas communities.

“Women, people of color and veterans all contribute significantly to our economy, and we will ensure that this continues,” Sam Walls, president and CEO of Arkansas Capital, said in a statement. .

“This award will allow us to be creative in how we connect small business owners with funding opportunities and match them with quality technical assistance providers to build sustainable businesses.

Working in partnership with commercial banks, government agencies, and other entities at the local, state, regional and national levels, Arkansas Capital has deployed more than $ 2 billion in equity financing.

Raise a glass

Tuesday afternoon, 10 local entrepreneurs will present their products and services to win $ 31,000 in prizes. The Shark Tank-like competition will virtually take place at 3 p.m., so you’ll have to raise your glass at home this year.

Businesses owned by women, veterans and people of color were preferred as candidates for this year’s competition. The group is focusing on Arkansas-based companies that have been financially affected by the pandemic and have annual sales of less than $ 100,000. The 10 candidates range from a Spanish tutoring company, to a computer coding company to a pizza restaurant company, among others.

Each entrepreneur will make a three-minute presentation in front of a panel of three judges and the virtual crowd. The judges will participate and vote for their favorites.

The winner walks away with $ 15,000 in cash. Second place earns $ 10,000 and third place earns $ 5,000. The online audience will vote for their favorite, which will take home $ 10,000 in cash.

The event is a collaboration between the Little Rock Venture Center, Venture Noire and the Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center.

More information is available at venturecenter.co.

BUILDING A BLACK BUSINESS

Approximately 40 black-owned businesses and nonprofits in the state receive financial support from the Arkansas Community Foundation and the Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative.

The grants support programs and initiatives set up to help black people and communities in the Little Rock metropolitan area, including Pulaski, Saline, Perry, Grant, Faulkner and Lonoke counties.

Funding is provided by Facebook while the Community Foundation is providing infrastructure support to provide the grants and black leaders in central Arkansas have selected organizations to receive the money.

Grant recipients serve areas that include small business support and economic development, community improvement, human services, civil rights, leadership development, education, arts and culture, and health.

“This significant grant will allow Black-led organizations to amplify their voices in the giving space,” said Derek Lewis of Black Philanthropy Collaborative. “The 40 grant recipients were able to demonstrate established relationships and a good track record of working on activities that impact black communities.”

Ideas for columns or recommendations? Any thoughts or reflections to pursue? Contact me at [email protected] or at 501-378-3567.


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