Company to provide internet to unserved areas of Booneville

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
The Booneville City Council voted to move forward with its plan to use solar power at its Feb. 22 meeting.

Federal dollars will pay for the city to add WiFi to areas of Booneville that do not have internet access.

Dobson Fiber, an internet provider, applied for and received the grant through the Arkansas Rural Connect program. The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, said John Zeiler, a corporate development manager with Dobson Fiber.

“We know that there’s a great need," Zeiler said.

Zeiler expects the company to begin construction on the fiber system next month. The project must be completed by Sept. 30.

The CARES Act is providing $4.4 million to the project. The total cost of the project is approximately $5.9 million. Dobson Fiber is paying for the additional $1.5 million that the CARES Act is not covering.

The company is putting in fiber to create internet access from Greenwood to Booneville, building off of the small fiber system that is already in Greenwood. The system will reach people in Booneville who do not have access to the internet. The areas are scattered throughout Booneville.

Dobson Fiber is in the process of choosing locations for the fiber, some of which could be underground and some of which will be on electricity poles.

“We’ve got a very robust network," Zeiler said. 

The fiber system works by creating a physical line that contains pieces of glass. Pulses of light travel down the line to create the connection, said Joseph Sanford, the director of digital health and innovation for the Institute for Digital Health and Innovation at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in a previous Times Record article. 

Zeiler also expects to begin signing customers up for internet by mid-September. He projects that Dobson Fiber will serve about 1,400 customers over a three-year period. 

Customers will pay $49 for 50 megs and $75 for 100 megs. 

Booneville Mayor Jerry Wilkins has already signed a contract with the company, "so it’s going to happen," he said.

The lack of internet is a complaint that Wilkins receives on a daily basis.

Having access to high-speed internet is important for kids to be able to attend school virtually and for adults to be able to work from home amid the pandemic.

It is also important for companies that rely on internet sales, such as Stirling Roastery in downtown Booneville, Wilkins said.

“It’ll be high-speed internet, which we desperately need," Wilkins said. 

Through the new internet system, people will also be able to access streaming sites, such as Hulu and Netflix.

“We’re looking forward to trying it," Wilkins said about the new internet.

Dobson Fiber is considering expanding after this internet project is completed, Zeiler said.

“They are looking at those possibilities," Zeiler said.

Zeiler said he is unsure when the company will take on this additional challenge.

The Magazine Telephone Company was also awarded approximately $1 million through the Arkansas Rural Connect program to create internet access throughout the city of Magazine.

Logan County and the Magazine Telephone Company are partnering on the initiative. Those with questions or comments can contact 479-675-3744 or 479-963-3601.