Residents across Arkansas are invited to help identify areas of critical need for high-speed broadband Internet access, particularly in rural areas of the state.

Access to fast and reliable internet service is important to the economic and social well-being of Arkansans, said Stacey McCullough, director of the Public Policy Center for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Understanding where gaps in service exist is critical to addressing those gaps and provide support to community leaders and the Arkansas State Broadband Office.

This work is in coordination with the State Broadband Plan, released by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in May.

McCullough said identifying the areas of greatest need throughout Arkansas is crucial to producing a statewide broadband network that truly serves its constituents.

“Addressing issues related to awareness, access, availability, adoption and utilization are all necessary to fully realize the benefits of e-connectivity for Arkansans,” McCullough said. “Accurate data to inform policy is also important.”

Residents can contribute to this national effort to identify gaps and service issues across the state by participating in an anonymous broadband speed test at Testing in both rural and urban geographic areas using more than one device is encouraged. Participants are also encouraged to share this link with others in your community so they can participate.

Information gathered through this study includes each device’s IP address, but will not include personal identifying information about the user. After the test, participants may review and compare research results with the published results of the Federal Communications Commission using an interactive mapping feature.

Rick Cartwright, senior associate vice president for agriculture for the Division of Agriculture, said bringing broadband connectivity to all areas of Arkansas will be key to competing in economy of the 21st century.

“The digital economy is here, and to fully participate every Arkansan needs access to reliable and fast broadband service, wherever they live and work,” Cartwright said. “It is critical to the future development of Arkansas that we work together to identify gaps in our broadband coverage and thus improve access for all.”

Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System and head of its Division of Agriculture, urged Arkansans to take part in the survey.

“Given the importance of broadband access to the economic progress of the state, the quality of life for Arkansans and the essential role that high speed broadband needs to play in the future of the state, I strongly encourage everyone to participate in the efforts to identify the gaps in our service,” he said. “The future of the state’s economy, its medical care, its education system and our rural communities depend upon access to high speed broadband connectivity.

“The technology necessary to keep agriculture, the state’s largest industry, competitive will depend more and more on high speed broadband access,” Cochran said.

This effort is being supported by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, the National Digital Education Extension Team, land-grant university leaders, and Cooperative Extension System economic development partners.

Earlier this week, Hutchinson announced the Arkansas Rural Connect program, which will allocate $25 million to bring high-speed broadband to Arkansas towns. The high-speed broadband must have a rate of at least 25 megabits per second for download and 3 megabits per second for upload – in shorthand, 25/3.

Individuals with questions about the broadband speed test or related issues can contact McCullough at [email protected]