Three years ago a major effort to improve broadband Internet service in Hot Springs Village began.
Soon after entrepreneur Greg Jones joined the Property Owners’ Association’s Government Affairs Committee, he was appointed to lead a new subcommmittee to study the issue.
“It was clear that there were some significant issues with broadband availability in various areas of the Village. We have been focused primarily on the wireline Internet providers such as Suddenlink and AT&T, who both service the Village.
“Cellular coverage is not something where we have focused although this is becoming an increasing method for wireless Internet access for consumers.
“We have been able to assist various residents with service and have been successful in working with Suddenlink specifically to address some coverage issues.
“As an example, we were able to get them to complete service for a street by Balboa Golf Course that had been missed in the original deployment of their service when the subdivision was built.
“As a result of our efforts, we were also able to get high speed WiFi deployed at the Ponce de Leon Center and Coronado Centers.
“This provides a location where Village residents can use the service at fairly high speed as needed.”
What particular challenges for technology does the Village pose — topography, population, distance, willingness or ability of potential customers to pay cost?
“A wide variety of issues pose challenges. Our topography is very mountainous and since we don’t have utility poles in most areas, all new services must be tunneled underground for the wireline carriers. This is a major undertaking with fairly high costs.
“Like all private businesses, the Internet service providers will look at return-on-investment to make their investment decisions. It’s not generally a reluctance of Villagers to purchase the service but more of an issue of destiny when running expensive service lines. It’s difficult to justify running a couple of miles of cable to service only 1 or 2 houses.”
Could it be considered “crucial” for Hot Springs Village’s future to improve both broadband and cellular services?
“Absolutely. As new residents move here from urban areas where Internet access is considered a basic utility, we will be limited in growth unless we can address these issues. Especially with the current pandemic, the ability to work from home using video conferencing is critical.”
Have any smaller Arkansas-based telecom companies such as Pinnacle or Ritter expressed recent interest in serving the Village? Does T-Mobile have anything to offer the Village?
“We have had discussions with all these providers and there is some interest but no movement at current time. There are some newer wireless Internet Service providers that may be interested and we have begin discussions with those service providers.”
Is there any Arkansas government-related technology news affecting the Village?
“The state has recognized that lack of broadband access is a critical issue in the growth of residents. This is important for many reasons including the education of our students. Arkansas has recently launched an initative to help deploy broadband technologies across the state. We are hopeful that the Village will be able to benefit from some of these initiatives.”
What about “game changing” broadband technology that might be available to the Village in the next decade? Will the Village have 5G service within a decade, or is that for metropolitan areas only for the foreseeable future?
“There are some new wireless technologies that are being tested including some new low-earth orbit Internet service providers that may help. Our topology really lends itself to better wireless technologies as our future.
“While 5G is an interesting technology, it relies on a large mesh of antennas/towers which are not really feasible here in the Village.
“We may get some benefit from this technology but frequency reuse will be an issue as they try to increase the bandwidth available to users.
“AT&T and Verizon have recently launched wireless Internet services that can be added to a consumer’s cell phone account which can be fairly cost effective if the user has decent cellular coverage at their residence.
“But, this does not solve broadband availability in areas of the Village with poor cellular coverage.”
Saline County Justice of the Peace Keith Keck last week updated the POA Board of Directors on the county’s efforts to win a state grant that could aid eastern HSV. See related article on page 3A.