Internet assessment: Eureka Springs, Holiday Island citizens asked to submit speed test

Thursday, December 30, 2021

For Eureka Springs and Holiday Island to receive grants for broadband internet access, the cities need help from as many citizens as possible. Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry recently urged all citizens in Carroll County’s Western District to submit a speed test assessing their internet access.

“The more people we get, the better, because it’s going to prove to the people in Little Rock that we do not have the access they think we have,” Berry said.

Berry has discussed the matter several times during meetings of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development. Sandy Martin, who serves on the task force, said a map detailing internet access in Carroll County would lead one to believe broadband is available countywide. That’s only because internet companies such as Cox and AT&T have placed fiber optic lines throughout the area, Martin said.

“But that has nothing to do with being connected or providing service, let alone affordability,” Martin said. “We have to prove their map wrong, and we know it’s wrong.”

Berry agreed.

“From practical experience, we realize that we don’t have high-speed internet access all across the county,” Berry said. “You may have it through satellite, but it’s going to be at a high cost.”

Martin said the city has been working with Rodney Ballance, the creator of Carroll County Internet, to bring broadband access all the way from Green Forest to Holiday Island. The project began at a county level, Martin said, when the Carroll County Collaborative discussed internet problems. The collaborative reached out to Cox and AT&T, Martin said, but the companies weren’t interested in working together to provide broadband countywide.

“Then Rodney Ballance entered the scene. Initially, it was Berryville Internet, which he has now changed to Carroll County Internet,” Martin said. “He went after the Arkansas Rural Connect grant and received it for a portion of Berryville and got that going.”

Ballance has committed to establishing broadband internet throughout the county, Martin said, but he needs grant money to make it happen. Martin said Berryville citizens are already enjoying local broadband internet, and the rest of Carroll County should be part of that, too.

“It is critical to Berryville’s development and industry,” Martin said.

Martin said the mayors of Berryville, Eureka Springs, Green Forest and Holiday Island have signed agreements expressing a commitment to make Carroll County Internet happen. Additionally, Martin said, County Judge Sam Barr has approved a resolution in support of the countywide internet effort. There will be more grant money available soon, Martin said, and the cities are gathering as much information as possible to apply.

What comes first, Martin said, is an engineering grant. Berry said an engineering grant will lead to an engineering study, the first step toward establishing a countywide broadband connection.

“The more information we have, the more supportive they’ll be of our application,” Berry said.

Martin said she met with a representative of Arkansas Rural Connect who encouraged the grant application. The city has also met with the engineering company the state has hired for the grants, Martin said.

“We’re getting information together to submit with the grant,” Martin said. “That’s why we need more people to take the speed test, particularly if you’re in a rural area, because the map doesn’t show our terrain.”

Berry said some residents live 500 feet from fiber optic lines, and internet companies are asking them to pay a hefty sum for additional wiring at their house.

“I’m talking thousands — tens of thousands of dollars — to run wires 500 or 1,000 feet,” Berry said. “That’s ridiculous to me.”

Martin agreed, saying she’s spoken with Holiday Island residents who have been asked to pay up to $47,000 to internet companies for additional fiber optic wiring. Carroll County Internet would eliminate that issue, Martin said, and it wouldn’t cost nearly as much as most internet packages. The goal, Martin said, is to provide high-speed internet throughout the county for less than $100 a month.

“Our population needs a delivery service that’s certainly under $100 — preferably under $75 — a month,” Martin said. “And hopefully, we can get it under $65 a month.”

In addition to the speed test, Martin said, the cities are interested in how much residents are paying for internet. That will help paint the bigger picture, Martin said, when it comes time to submit the grant applications.

“Affordability is a big thing,” Martin said. “That’s what’s driving this project.”

Establishing broadband countywide will benefit everyone, Berry said, especially schoolchildren who need internet to complete their homework. Parents who live outside city limits can’t necessarily afford satellite internet, Berry said, and must drive their kids to an area with public wireless internet to get schoolwork done.

“I just can’t imagine in today’s society with education the way it is, that we can’t provide broadband to all our children,” Berry said. “Not to mention people who work from home, as so many of us are.”

Martin said the city has lost businesses because of poor internet access, and some businesses can’t reach their full potential until the internet problem is solved.

“We hear all the time, ‘I don’t have an online store because I don’t have good internet here,’ ” Martin said. “That is economic damage and we need to fix that for our businesses and our retailers. There’s no reason for that in this day and age.”

Internet should be a basic utility, Martin said, like gas and water.

“That is a basic standard utility and it should be treated as such, quite frankly, but it’s not right now,” Martin said. “We’re really hopeful about this broadband project.”

Even if you don’t have internet access, Martin said, you can help improve the grant application by letting the city know about your situation.

“Send us an email just documenting that,” Martin said. “I’ve already received several of those saying, ‘I can’t get internet in my area’ or ‘I have really poor internet in my area.’ ”

Berry encouraged everyone to do the speed test, saying it will really make a difference.

“Money is coming in from the federal government and the governor is saying a lot of it is going to broadband,” Berry said. “We need to make sure it’s going to the right place.”

To complete the speed test, visit https://speedtest.arkansas.gov. For more information, email Martin at procommeureka@gmail.com or Berry at mayor@eurekaspringsar.gov.

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