Windstream snags $46.3M for Arkansas fiber projects

Windstream won $46.3 million in grants from the Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) Broadband Program to expand fiber to thousands of rural residents in the state, adding to some $5 million in funding it received in 2020.

The company said this year's funding will fuel a total of seven fiber projects across as many counties, which will eventually cover more than 15,100 homes and small businesses. Construction on an initial project in Grant County is set to begin this month and is expected to be complete in spring 2022. That project alone received a total of $10.8 million in ARC funding and will bring coverage to 6,380 locations.

Windstream noted it plans to kick in $17.2 million of its own money for the projects to supplement the ARC grants, raising the total cost for the work to $63.5 million.

Tony Thomas, Windstream president and CEO, said in a statement that “without the kind of public-private partnership we celebrate here today, it would not be economically feasible to build fiber networks to the most rural communities in America.” He added “collectively, our nation has a once-in-a generation opportunity to reach unserved and underserved areas, and Windstream is eager to do our part across our 18-state footprint.”

The Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) program was established in 2019 and allows service providers to partner with government entities to apply for broadband grants. The program was first supported by a combination of state money and allocations from Arkansas’ share of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is now being fueled by an influx of money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

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An initial round of ARC awards distributed last year provided a total of $118.1 million in support for 76 projects. Windstream, partnering with local officials on projects in three different counties, won a total of $4.9 million in Round I funding. Round 1 wrapped in February 2021.

At the end of August, the Arkansas Legislative Council voted to approve the allocation of $120 million in ARPA funding for 34 shovel-ready broadband projects. It also gave the go ahead for the council’s co-chairmen to authorize an additional $27 million for 12 more projects currently under review as they become ready.

Arkansas joins a number of other states using CARES and APRA funding to prioritize broadband deployments. In July, California said it would dedicate $6 billion to broadband, with at least half that figure coming from the state’s share of ARPA support, while Virginia allocated $700 million in ARPA funding for deployments.

Last month, Missouri’s governor announced a plan to set aside at least $400 million in ARPA money for broadband, while North Carolina mulled an investment of more than $850 million.