TEXARKANA, Ark. — Southwest Arkansas Rural Electric Cooperative will soon offer high-speed internet to all of the 26,000-plus homes it serves, thanks to more than $53 million in funding secured by its subsidiary.
"The areas we serve have long been bypassed in terms of high-speed internet access. That changes today," said Dion Cooper, the cooperative's CEO, in a press release.
The cooperative, headquartered in Texarkana, serves 11 counties, including the De Queen, Nashville and Bradley areas as well as communities in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.
Cooper told the Gazette on Monday that officials are finalizing the project's Phase 1 and construction could start as soon as April or May.
The new fiber network is expected to encompass more than 5,000 miles.
The local electric cooperative will build the fiber right up to customers' homes. The cooperative's wholly-owned subsidiary, Four States Fiber, will then offer the gigabit-capable broadband service to the customer and lease the fiber from the electric cooperative, Cooper said.
Fiber advantages, particularly amid a pandemic, include:
n the ability to serve multiple users and devices at the same time without losing service quality,
n easier and more reliable access to distance learning for kids, telecommuting options for working parents, virtual connections to friends and family, telemedicine and more.
The $53 million was awarded to Four States Fiber through the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
Southwest Arkansas REA was part of the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium, a bidding entity of 90-plus cooperatives coordinated and led by rural fiber-optic network design and construction management leader Conexon to secure the Rural Digital Opportunity funds.
The local cooperative bid in an auction at the gigabit tier, signaling its intent to deploy 100% fiber, resulting in a super-fast, dependable and robust network.
In the bidding efforts, Southwest Arkansas Electric joined more than 90 cooperatives coordinated and led by rural fiber-optic network design and construction management leader Conexon.
Overall, this group was awarded $1.1 billion, enabling electric cooperatives across 22 states to deliver world-class fiber to home service for more than two million rural Americans.
"For years, AT&T, Windstream, CenturyLink and other telephone companies have been given public funds to provide telecommunications service in rural areas of Southwestern Arkansas," Conexon partner Jonathan Chambers stated in a press release.
"And yet, the vast majority of residents lack the broadband services necessary to live and work in today's environment. The funding that will be awarded to Southwest Arkansas Electric's fiber subsidiary is but a fraction of the funding that continues to flow to the telephone companies from the state and federal governments."
Cooper said the cooperative will partner with Conexon on much of the design work for the fiber network, adding it is a premier company in broadband development.