Broadband Internet service has become essential, company officials told the Hot Springs Village Property Owners’ Association governmental affairs committee at its May meeting.
Speaking to the GAC were Keith Gibson, chief executive officer of Pinnacle Communications, and Bill Stuckey, Pinnacle vice president for business and development.
While streaming music and movies is one factor pushing broadband demand, ironically it is health-care service that makes broadband service critical, Gibson says.
With broadband service, medical specialists in Little Rock can serve patients in HSV and other places remote from the capital city.
Extending medical service and the need to maintain secure connections is driving Internet expansion, he said.
Technology is rapidly developing, and the solution for the Village might not be discovered yet, Gibson said. Pinnacle owns radio spectrum that could be one future solution. Unfortunately, no company makes equipment at this time to use Pinnacle’s spectrum, but Gibson remains optimistic.
The pair was invited to speak by GAC member Greg Jones, who’s spearheading efforts to improve broadband service in the Village. Gibson’s company, Pinnacle Telecom, and Stuckey’s company merged to form the new company.
Gibson said communities must have broadband service to be viable in the future. Gibson believes fiber-optic hardline service is the answer, while Stuckey is more optimistic about a combination of fiber optic and wireless.
Gibson stressed that his Fort Smith-based company is eager to work with HSV to provide broadband service, but he warns that creating service will be expensive and will need a subsidy. Broadband fiber expansion costs $60,000 to $100,000 per mile, and it will be at the high end in the Village because of rocky soil and challenging terrain, Gibson said.
Jones told the pair the Village is lucky in that it already has fiber-optic service along major roads, including DeSoto Boulevard. AT&T, which provides telecom service in HSV, installed the lines.
But Dallas, Texas-based AT&T is strongly focused on serving major markets, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth area and San Antonio, Texas, Jones said.
Pinnacle Telecom was a family-owned company that served rural communities in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Gibson gave a history of telecom service and the Internet.
Using existing copper lines, telephone companies initially provided 256-megabit service, “which is creepy-crawly today,” he said. Internet speed is measured in megabits – eight bits equal one byte of data.
Subscribers initially used the Internet primarily for Internet. “Six megabits soon evolved, pretty much overnight,” he said.
Today, it is common for customers to demand 25 Mb service, with streaming music and movies a key factor.
The Federal Communications maintains oversight over telecommunication. The universal service fee applied to each telephone service funds efforts to provide service to remote areas.
Fortunately for rural America, Gibson said, the Trump administration is focused to expanding Internet service to rural areas. Gibson said the former Obama administration heavily concentrated on expanding in metropolitan areas.
Also, Gov. Asa Hutchinson strongly supports expanding broadband service across Arkansas, Gibson said.
He urged individuals to write letters to the government officials outlining the need for improved Internet service to HSV. Gibson said grants primarily aim to help areas that have no Internet service at all.
GAC members told the pair of areas in the Village that are lacking in service to both cellphones and Internet.
Another possibility is service from electrical cooperatives. Many coops are interested in stringing fiber lines on existing poles, Gibson said.
When told that First Electric Cooperative, which serves the Saline County half of the Village, has mostly buried lines locally, Gibson said it might be cost-prohibitive for the co-op to provide Internet service here, but it remains something to explore.
He said that co-ops in general have been charging high fees for other companies to use their lines, but Entergy Arkansas has been reasonable in renting its poles.
While Gibson is less than enthusiastic on wireless, he retains a belief that the radio spectrum his company owns could be a solution in the future. Or another, yet undiscovered technology, may provide the answer to the Village.