How to Expand Broadband Access in Your Community

December 17, 2020
Crystal Johnson, CEO, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce

In the final installment of our three-part series on broadband, we’re looking into communities. In Independence County, we’ve seen the increased need for reliability and affordable internet access – and the COVID-19 global pandemic has further underscored the need to address this. At the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, we’re working to expand broadband coverage to better serve educators and students. Based on our experience, we’ve developed this how-to guide to provide practical, actionable recommendations for community leaders and educators to expand broadband access in their own communities.

Step 1: Ask yourself, “Do I know who does and does not have broadband access currently?” 

If the answer is “no,” a great first step is to survey families to ask questions related to their current access. Make sure to capture respondents’ addresses (one submission per household), so you can map out areas where access is scarce.

Recommendation: Give well-defined survey options. For example, choices could include:

  1. I do not have any access whatsoever to broadband internet in my household.
  2. I have access to broadband in my household, but it is unreliable; therefore, I do not have consistent access.
  3. I have access to broadband internet only through a mobile phone in my household.

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Do I know why they do not have access?”

It is important to note the reason why the household does not have access. Lack of broadband infrastructure and/or service is a different challenge than broadband service affordability.

Recommendation: Give multiple reasoning options and allow respondents to share other reasoning. For example, choices could include:

  1. Broadband internet service is available to my household but the cost is too high for my family to access it.
  2. Broadband internet service is not available at all to my household.
  3. Broadband service is available to my household and is cost effective for my family, but it is unreliable, and therefore, not of value to us.

Recommendation: Families are receiving a heightened amount of personal communication. Keep in mind that human resources may be needed to follow up with families in order to obtain complete and accurate information. 

Step 3: Determine which Internet Service Providers (ISP) are serving or might have interest in serving your area.

The Arkansas State Broadband office has prepared a listing of ISPs that have expressed interest in the expansion of broadband in rural areas that you can use to identify potential partners.

Step 4: Partner with interested ISPs to share collected information about services. 

ISPs vary in business models, but nearly all of them will need to begin with basic information about existing service coverage. Providing addresses categorized by access issues (affordability vs. lack of infrastructure or service) based on information you gather in Steps 1 and 2 above will assist them in addressing challenges and conducting a cost analysis.

Recommendation: Set regular meetings with the ISPs interested in servicing your area to monitor their progress in this exploratory phase.

Additionally, ISPs may need support in locating property owners, identifying infrastructure asset owners (towers, grain bins, etc.), and negotiating rates for supplies and materials during the exploratory phase. A strong relationship with the network of businesses in the area will be beneficial in identifying incentives and discounts that may be needed to complete the project.

Step 5: Utilize the cost analysis conducted by the interested ISPs to determine next steps.

Incentives and discounts, if significant, could be enough to make the project worthy of the ISPs investment. If not, other funding sources, such as the state-sponsored AR Rural Connect program, may be needed and can be researched.

Crystal Johnson is CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce. For more information and to contact Crystal, email crystal.johnson@batesvilleareachamber.com.