First-in-the-Nation Initiative Aims to Close Digital Divide in Arkansas

Non-Profit and State Government Join Forces to Provide Affordable Internet Access
By Pamela Acosta

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced a partnership with EducationSuperHighway, a national non-profit organization, to address the “broadband affordability gap” in the state. The partnership aims to implement best practices and develop programs to address the issue, which is the primary cause of the digital divide in the US and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latino Americans.

An estimated 214,760 Arkansas households have access to a home broadband connection, but are unable to connect due to the high cost. Closing the broadband affordability gap has become a national priority in recent years, with the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act allocating $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access. This includes $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal broadband benefit that provides eligible households with a monthly discount of up to $30 per month (up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands) and a one-time $100 discount towards a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

Over 600,000 Arkansas households are eligible for the ACP, yet only 124,000 (20% of those eligible) have enrolled. EducationSuperHighway recently released its second “No Home Left Offline” report, which outlines the action needed to accelerate ACP adoption.

As part of the new partnership with Arkansas, EducationSuperHighway will develop statewide programs to overcome complex awareness, trust, and enrollment barriers that prevent households in under-resourced communities from enrolling in the ACP. The organization has also launched new tools and resources to support statewide efforts, including, a virtual mobile assistant that simplifies the ACP enrollment process by providing real-time support to help eligible households determine the easiest way to qualify.

EducationSuperHighway will partner with the Arkansas State Broadband Office, housed within the Arkansas Department of Commerce, to plan, implement, and execute the ACP awareness and engagement campaign.

Arkansas State Broadband Director Glen Howie noted the significance of the partnership, stating in a press release: “With over $1 billion invested in broadband infrastructure since 2020, the creation of the innovative Arkansas Connectivity Coalition dedicated to digital opportunity efforts, and now this partnership with EducationSuperHighway, Arkansas is taking a comprehensive approach to closing the digital divide.”

Governor Hutchinson emphasized the importance of affordable high-speed broadband in today’s high-tech society, stating in a press release: “Affordable high-speed broadband is not a luxury in our high-tech society, it is necessary for our students to remain at or above grade level in their education and for our businesses to compete in the global economy. For that reason, getting access to all Arkansans has been a top priority of my administration since Day One. We must do everything we can to eliminate the digital divide, and we are committed to ensuring that Arkansans who are eligible for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program are aware of the program and are encouraged to apply.”