By Paul Wellenberger
Paul Wellenberger is the former mayor of Fairfield Bay. The Fairfield Bay community was awarded the first Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) broadband grant.
Fairfield Bay is a resort community on Greers Ferry Lake where people often relocate (you won’t find many third generation residents in our city.) It became obvious to our Imagine Fairfield Bay 2035 team that potential residents now consider great broadband a given just like electricity and water. Without it, folks seeking to relocate here expect it.
With the help of a small grant ($10,000) from the Fairfield Bay Community Fund with other contributors, a study was conducted to assess what it would take to get all of Fairfield Bay to 25/3. (The official FCC broadband definition is a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.) Armed with this critical information, we met with the three internet providers to see what could be done. There was still a major area that was very underserved.
We teamed up with Arkansas Telephone Company from Clinton to submit an Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) grant request and won. The $1,568,750 grant that was recently awarded addresses our least served areas. The project runs 27 miles providing fiber to the home to over 750 structures and is projected to be completed by the end of 2020.
“This is the first of many projects to be awarded to rural Arkansas communities,” Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said in a statement. “The ARC grant program is important for the long-term success of our state’s economy.”
Broadband funding was provided through the federal CARES Act, and the state CARES Act Steering Committee and Arkansas General Assembly have approved $19.3 million for ARC grants to be spent by Dec. 30, 2020. An additional $4.7 million in funding is available for projects that extend past that deadline.
This small Fairfield Bay Foundation study grant was the impetus that got the ball rolling. The importance of the Fairfield Bay Community Fund cannot be overstated. Without it, many projects that improve the quality of life in our community could not be done. We deeply appreciate the assistance we received from the Arkansas Community Foundation. They helped us establish the fund and assisted us with the administration and legal compliances required to be successful.
To learn more about the Fairfield Bay Community Fund, visit https://www.arcf.org/our-impact/community-funds/fairfield-bay-community-fund/