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May 2, 2022

Broadband: Your town’s life depends on it

BY DOUG MAGLOTHIN, DIAMOND STATE NETWORKS

My family and I vacationed in the Florida panhandle this past summer. Upon arrival at “the beach,” as we call it, we found that there was a void of internet service for our WiFi and cellular-equipped devices. This was welcome news to my wife and me, who both relished an opportunity to unplug for a week. However, our children (ages 6, 8 and 10) were completely distraught. By the end of our week, their constant bellyaching had caused my wife and me to decide to never again stay at that condo.

While today’s adult-aged generations still remember when we saw or received our first brick-sized wireless phone, today’s children have never lived in a world without the iPhone. Complete and total connectivity is their generation’s reality and standard. The convenience aspect is similar to that of electricity to rural America in the 1930s and 1940s. Once generations discover a tool to improve their quality of life, they long for the increased conveniences.

For rural Arkansas, the lack of broadband connectivity looms large. For years, major metropolitan areas have grown, while rural America has withered away. During the current pandemic, however, a stark reversal of this trend has occurred, with citizens migrating to small-town living for more affordable and accommodating places to live. Much like the push for electricity in rural America back in the 1930s, the future health and vibrance of small towns and communities are now completely predicated on residents having access to best-in-class broadband services in order to access vital employment opportunities and other life-impacting online services.

Three types of connections become the foundation for healthy, vibrant communities (no – TikTok isn’t one of them): First and foremost, residents must be able to support their way of life through employment. With more remote employment opportunities than ever available, broadband is an economic lifeblood. Communities with gainfully employed residents see lower crime rates, higher tax revenues and significantly greater business development opportunities. Second, residents must also be able to improve their lives through connection to education. Whether it be high school, technical training, higher education or even job-specific skills development, residents who can increase their skills and their access
to jobs experience a much higher quality of life. Last but not least, vibrant and growing communities must be kept healthy. Good quality health care is no longer something that you have to live in a major metropolitan area to access. It is more convenient than ever through remote health care clinics. Whether it’s primary care or specialty, good broadband is the key to unlocking access to remote health care for rural communities.

In summary, two things are important to remember:

1. Younger generations are inundated with connected devices from the time they are small. Once grown,
they will not perceive a town or community with poor connectivity as a viable place to live. Much like electricity 100 years ago, for our towns to thrive, we simply MUST invest in broadband.

2. Broadband needs more than just a plan for Arkansas to become a significantly connected state, it needs a mission. Plans have objectives and steps, but missions include something more: a purpose. The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas formed Diamond State Networks to help with the cooperatives’ mission of providing low-cost broadband to all of Arkansas. Unlike profit-driven companies who will only cherry-pick affluent areas, the electric cooperative broadband companies are mission-driven and member-focused. This mission mirrors the electric cooperatives ongoing mission to improve the quality of life for Arkansans. We are Arkansas-based, and we have a comprehensive plan to make Arkansas one of the most significantly connected states in the country through nearly $2 billion in investment.

How to help with expanding broadband in Arkansas:

To learn more about Diamond State Networks and the electric cooperatives’ mission, please visit diamondstatenetworks.com. Also, please help to further our mission by contacting your Arkansas legislators at https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Legislators/Search, and ask them to direct infrastructure funding to the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas to achieve our mission as soon as possible.

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