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Still no broadband

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  • DETERMINED: Horton says rural communities deserve broadband internet services

Last June, we told you about Michael Horton, a tireless advocate for rural broadband. Horton lives with his wife in Snowball, in southwest Searcy County. The area is served by Windstream, but even with federal funding aimed at expanding rural broadband, the company says sending high speed internet services to small communities like Snowball is just too unprofitable of a venture.

Horton plans to speak to the Arkansas Broadband Council at their meeting tomorrow. In a letter addressed to the Council, he says:

Last fall when Windstream was awarded a $7.3 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture for rural broadband expansion in Arkansas, the company used federal recovery funding in areas of the state already served with broadband Internet from a competing ISP but provisioned no funding for infrastructural expansion in Searcy County.

Cox Communications notified the USDA regarding three of Windstream’s public notice filings for Arkansas, indicating that Cox already provided broadband service to Windstream’s proposed projects in Harrison, Elkins and Mulberry. Despite Cox Communication’s objections against public subsidization of its competition, Windstream was awarded funding for already served areas.

Rural broadband funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was intended to subsidize the connection of unserved communities with no access to a broadband network, such as those in Searcy County, not to serve as corporate welfare for a company with annual revenue of $4 billion.

Full letter on the jump.

Arkansas Broadband Council
1220 W. Sixth St.
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Dear Council Members:

Today I address the Arkansas Broadband Council with the support of the Searcy County School
District, the Searcy County Library Board, the North Central Arkansas Literacy Council, the
Searcy County Quorum Court and the Marshall Rotary Club.

The students of the Searcy County School District are facing a needless disadvantage as a result of
Windstream Communications’ refusal to provide broadband service to rural communities
throughout its service area in Searcy County.

Digital literacy is now necessary for educational and economic advancement, but the development
of Searcy County’s rural students in this regard is being impeded. Our students’ limited broadband
access on campus coupled with the lack of service at home is threatening the state’s mission of
academic parity regardless of where a student lives.

For years Windstream has denied requests from the district’s parents for high speed Internet at
their homes. The company continues to cite the cost of new infrastructure, and persists in
disregarding calls and letters from parents, residents and businesses, as well as formal appeals
from state legislators such as Senator Randy Laverty, District 2, that demonstrate strong demand
for the service.

Last fall when Windstream was awarded a $7.3 million grant from the United States Department
of Agriculture for rural broadband expansion in Arkansas, the company used federal recovery
funding in areas of the state already served with broadband Internet from a competing ISP but
provisioned no funding for infrastructural expansion in Searcy County.

Cox Communications notified the USDA regarding three of Windstream’s public notice filings for
Arkansas, indicating that Cox already provided broadband service to Windstream’s proposed
projects in Harrison, Elkins and Mulberry. Despite Cox Communication’s objections against
public subsidization of its competition, Windstream was awarded funding for already served areas.

Rural broadband funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was
intended to subsidize the connection of unserved communities with no access to a broadband
network, such as those in Searcy County, not to serve as corporate welfare for a company with
annual revenue of $4 billion.

Windstream has characterized the provision of broadband service to its customers in rural Searcy
County as “not a sound economic business case” and to do so “would just never make sense.”

According to data supplied by Connect Arkansas, the following list is a survey of communities in
bordering counties that are as remote—if not more so—than Windstream’s unserved areas in
Searcy County; each of these communities has broadband service from a telecommunications
company other than Windstream:

- Deer, Mt. Judea, Ponca, Lurton and Bass in Newton County (Ritter Communications)
- Chimes, Alread and Dennard in Van Buren County (Arkansas Telephone Company)
- Ben-Hur in Pope County (Arkansas Telephone Company)
- Alco, Onia and Timbo in Stone County (Mountain View Telephone Company)
- Pyatt and Bruno in Marion County (North Arkansas Telephone Company)

Giving the lie to Windstream’s argument about the financial insolubility of Searcy County, Ritter
Communications also provides broadband service to the northwest Searcy County communities of
Pindall, St. Joe, Woolum and Gilbert. Ritter has been able to establish “a sound economic business
case” for providing broadband to Searcy County, while Windstream treats those in its service area
as technological pariahs. The company is content to collect on our phone bills but not to supply
broadband on those same lines.

Searcy County has seen the closure of one rural school and the consolidation of two others in the
last decade alone, so we understand the concept of short-term sacrifice in order to attain long-
term growth. To succeed in the new century, our students need enhanced broadband access at
school as well as service at home, neither of which is possible using Windstream’s current
infrastructure in Searcy County. Windstream, an Arkansas based company, can build toward the
future by ending its discrimination against truly rural areas and investing now in the communities
of Snowball, Witts Springs, Tilly, Welcome Home, Canaan, Oxley, Cozahome and Harriet.

In 2007, Governor Mike Beebe argued, “Our kids deserve broadband infrastructure that connects
them to the Internet and provides technological equity.” Four years later our rural students in
Searcy County are still waiting for Windstream to supply them the broadband infrastructure that
Governor Beebe says they deserve.

For further reading on this issue, please see Gerard Matthews’ article “Not Fit for Broadband” in
the June 24, 2010, edition of the Arkansas Times.

I ask for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Michael J. Horton

Cc: Mike Beebe, Governor of Arkansas
Randy Laverty, State Senator, District 2
Kelley Linck, State Representative, District 86
David Branscum, State Representative, District 90
J.T. Meister, Vice President of State Government Affairs, Windstream Communications
Marie Bruno, Vice President, Connect Arkansas

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