Pat Ulrich can’t make water-cooler talk about The Handmaid’s Tale or Shrill. “I can’t get Hulu or anything like that,” she says. If it’s on a streaming service, she probably hasn’t seen it.
Her home, in Arkansas, has no broadband internet connection. A cable company once quoted her $44,000 to install one, so she and her husband get mediocre Wi-Fi through a satellite provider. “It’s 20 gigabytes” per month, she says, “no different from using your phone.”
Connectivity isn’t just a problem for the state’s sizable rural population. Ulrich lives in a suburb of Little Rock and commutes into the city each day to work as a web developer for the Arkansas Arts Center. Needless to say, she never works from home.
Arkansas is the least connected of the 50 states, according to BroadbandNow, a group that tracks consumer options. Since 2011, the state has banned cities and towns from building their own networks, outlawing a local solution that has been hailed as an effective way for communities to connect themselves when they don’t have internet providers.
This year, however, Arkansas appears to be having a change of heart. Under the weight of constituent complaints about lousy internet—and after years of waiting for subsidies to goad telecom giants into expanding the infrastructure—the state legislature in February passed a bill to repeal its ban. Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said he will sign it.
That this is happening at all is significant. That it’s happening in a deep-red state is perhaps monumental.
Arkansas outlawed municipal broadband in 2011 as a wave of other states passed similar laws. It was, in part, a factor of the Tea Party movement, which ushered small-government Republicans into state capitols. By 2018, 21 states had some law banning or restricting municipal broadband; many were cut-and-paste “model legislation” from the American Legislative and Exchange Council, backed by telecom giants. They sought to kill municipal broadband under the belief that “such services should not be offered by government in competition with private-sector providers.”
Yes, the cable companies are so awful that they are getting municipal broadband in Arkansas.
These companies got $250 million from the FCC to build out broadband, and didn’t do squat.
They are the most hated businesses in America for a reason, and the ALEC sponsored ban on municipal broadband has become toxic.