State poised for broadband gains in post-pandemic nation

State poised for broadband gains in post-pandemic nation


As economic activity returns, with more businesses and schools opening, the evolution to online doctor visits, school lessons and work-from-home Zoom meetings also continues and is increasing the demand for access to high-speed Internet.

Millions of Americans are relying every day on technology for communication, entertainment and work, according to statistics from Statista, a global company that specializes in market and consumer data. Data usage increases have been registered on all devices, with the biggest jumps coming from gaming consoles and smart phones.

The first weeks of March, from March 1-17, saw an 18% spike in year-over-year monthly in-home data usage. The company also reports a 1,087% jump in education app downloads for the same period.

Usage demands have moved the spotlight to broadband expansions, which over the past year have accelerated in Arkansas through increases in state funding, financial support from federal coronavirus stimulus plans and grants from the Federal Communications Commission.

Indeed, the FCC is committing $20.4 billion over the next 10 years to Internet providers to bridge the digital divide that has plagued rural states like Arkansas, where residents are spread out and it’s costlier to provide high-speed connections.

So how is Arkansas faring?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the nation for the most funding per rural resident through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, an auction process set up to deliver broadband to rural communities and promote competition.

The FCC is allocating $424.2 million to expand broadband service in all 75 Arkansas counties – an amount that equals $377 per Arkansan, according to a study by SatelliteInternet.com, an organization that examines broadband deployment in rural areas. Companies such as Space X, owned by Elon Musk, were awarded funding to provide broadband in rural Arkansas via low-orbit satellites.

California is schedule to receive the most per rural resident at $830, followed by Arizona, West Virginia and Louisiana.

In Arkansas, FCC funding will deliver broadband to 388,000 Arkansans who do not have access to high-speed Internet today, the agency said when it announced the program in December.

The FCC defines broadband as 25 megabits per second of download speed and 3 Mbps of upload speed. That gets users in the game but is far from the 1 gigabit speeds that are delivered in most urban areas today.

However, 99% of providers that were awarded FCC grants said they would deliver 100 Mbps download speed and 85% of those, like Windstream Holdings Inc. of Little Rock, said they would offer speeds of 1 gigabit per second, according to SatelliteInternet.

Windstream was one of the top five winners in the auction and is scheduled to receive about $523 million over the 10-year period to serve about 200,000 households in 18 states. The company received $56 million to provide high-speed service to 19,000 households in Arkansas.

HELP FOR VETS

Military veterans can receive entrepreneurial education and training Tuesday and Wednesday in a Boots to Business seminar offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The course provides an overview of entrepreneurship and business-ownership fundamentals and is geared toward veterans interested in starting their own business. Active duty service members, including the National Guard and Reserve, can participate along with veterans of all eras.

The introductory course offers information related to the skills and resources they need to start a business, including steps for developing business concepts, how to build a business plan and information on SBA resources available to help.

The in-person program is facilitated by SBA and other business advisers.

More information is available at sba.gov/ar.

MENTAL HEALTH

Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on economic conditions, household spending and employment but there is another, often- overlooked area it has blasted: wellbeing and mental health.

Across the nation, there is growing anxiety about the pandemic’s effect on wellbeing, according to a new study by the Conference Board, a business organization that represents more than 1,000 public and private companies.

U.S. workers rank mental and psychological wellbeing as one of their biggest wellness concerns, the study said, noting that about 76% of respondents expressed mental health concerns.

About 59% of those surveyed said they were worried about stress and burnout at work. About 33% said they had social wellness concerns related to the inability to connect with others at work.

Even so, the report shows that participation in programs including mental health resources and employee assistance programs has dropped.

On the upside, employees reported they can open up at work and discuss their concerns. An overwhelming majority of respondents feel their supervisors care about their wellbeing.

The online survey, conducted in the first few weeks of March, polled more than 1,100 U.S. workers representing a cross-section of people across industries, from lower-level employees to the chief executive officer.

More information is available at conference-board.org.

ACROSS THE BORDER

Darragh Co. of Little Rock is expanding across the border with plans to open a branch in Springfield, Mo. The move continues the company’s growth momentum. Darragh opened a new location in Memphis in February and last month purchased Morgan Tool and Supply of Shreveport.

Darragh will have a total of 15 locations among all its divisions. “We are all excited to have accelerated our expansion this year,” said Chief Executive Officer Rich Dunlap. “Moving into the Springfield, Mo. area is a natural step for us.”

Darragh, founded in 1906, provides products to the construction, industrial and trade professional sectors.

BITE SQUAD EXPANDS

Food delivery service Bite Squad is looking for drivers to support its expansion into Morrilton, where residents can enjoy free delivery during the kick-off.

The Morrilton expansion is part of Bite Squad’s effort to enhance delivery options in Central Arkansas, including initiatives to enhance no-contact delivery of food.

More information is available at bitesquad.com.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at 501-378-3567.



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