Ritter Communications scores $44M to expand Arkansas fiber

Ritter Communications has been awarded eight rural broadband grants by the Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) Broadband Program, amounting to a total of $44 million. Funding will be used to provide grant areas with Ritter’s fiber-based broadband internet. 

The grants, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), bring the total amount ARC awarded to Ritter Communications to about $67 million. Ritter Communications was previously awarded two grants totaling $12.8 million in January, also through the ARC Program. 

"Ritter Communications has become a trusted leader in getting and keeping Arkansans connected to each other and to essential services,” said Ritter Communications CEO Alan Morse in a statement. “We were pleased to partner with local Arkansas communities to jointly apply for these grants, and we appreciate the confidence the State of Arkansas has placed in us to bring these projects to fruition.” 

Ritter Communications is the largest private telecom service provider in the Mid-Southern U.S., serving four states and over 45,000 customers. The provider is the parent company of RightFiber, a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) service offering speeds up to one gigabit per second

Other grant winners in ARC’s latest funding round include Walnut Hill Telephone with approximately $9.7 million, South Arkansas Telephone Company (SATCO) with $6.3 million and Windstream with $5.2 million. 

Walnut Hill Telephone got the second highest number of grants, which will serve six markets in the state. 

Windstream also scored a $46.3 million boost of ARC funds late last year. The funds were allocated to seven fiber projects across Arkansas, and Windstream plans to cover over 15,100 homes and small businesses. 

Since ARC’s establishment in 2019, the program has channeled state and federal funding to help local service providers expand broadband across Arkansas. ARC applicants must have project footprints with areas that are at least 20% unserved or underserved.  Initially ARC received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Currently, its funds are provided by ARPA. 

Since ARPA went into effect March 2021, states and service providers have been able to expand the scope of their broadband and fiber projects. AT&T won a nearly $40 million bid in October to bring fiber coverage to over 20,000 premises in Indiana. 

The U.S. Treasury issued a set of final rules earlier this year, allowing a wider range of broadband projects to receive ARPA funds. Under these rules, which will take effect April 1, 2022, projects are encouraged to deliver symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps and provide affordable broadband options for low-income consumers.