Provider to boost internet service

SEARCY — White County Cable TV will invest $14.2 million to provide broadband service to residents of five north-central Arkansas communities by the end of 2022, essentially doubling its investment in the region.

The company is committed to providing 1 gigabit service to every resident and business in Searcy, Judsonia, Kensett, Higginson and Bald Knob. The project, which involves upgrading 350 miles of infrastructure, will begin in Searcy and then expand to other communities. Approximately 5,682 customers are in the service area.

“I think it can really give you a selling point for economic development,” Walter Hussman Jr., president of WEHCO Media, Inc., told the group of community leaders gathered for Monday’s announcement at the Chamber of Commerce. of Searcy.

WEHCO Media owns White County Cable and is the parent company of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The company is funding the entire project, which is called “Gig City”. Today, White County Cable’s investment in the area is approximately $13.8 million, and the broadband upgrade will add an additional $14.2 million, Hussman said. “We’re really rebuilding the whole system here,” he said.

The service will be offered under the Cablelynx Broadband brand.

“It’s going to use the latest technology and deliver gigabit service to every resident and business in the area,” said Tony Allen, the company’s regional manager. “What’s unique about this is that we’re not going to select customers or just target certain segments. We’re going to offer that to everyone in those five communities.”

Searcy and surrounding communities will receive faster service at better prices, said Buck Layne, president and CEO of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“This will allow businesses and residents, especially in a time when more and more people are working from home, to get information faster and more cheaply than before,” Layne said. “This is going to be a huge boost for our community.”

Mapping and engineering for Gig City began in 2019. Allen said speeds in each service area will gradually increase and the company will keep customers informed as upgrades are implemented.

Implementation should be seamless and won’t involve any action by customers – it won’t even be necessary to enter a home or business to install the service.

“We’re going to be able to do this without going into your house,” Hussman said. “It’s much less disruptive to us as a business and to you as a customer.”

Basic residential and business customers will see automatic speed upgrades with no price increase, the company said. For example, residential customers who received 25 megabits per second today will upgrade to 50 Mbps; business customers receiving 100 Mbps will be upgraded to 250 Mbps.

Although 1 gigabyte service is available, customers will have the option of choosing tiered plans. “We will maintain tiered pricing,” Hussman said. “People who need less will pay less; they can pay for whatever they need.”

White County Cable is the original cable franchisee for the region, Hussman said, adding that he hopes its service heritage as well as its ownership as an Arkansas company will keep customers from drifting away from competitors when they enter the region.

The rural area will eventually receive 5G service from wireless service providers as well as broadband offerings from new entrants who benefit from federal subsidies. The Federal Communications Commission offers grants to companies entering rural markets to offer broadband service for the first time.

“We’ve been engaged in Arkansas communities for more than half a century,” Hussman added. “Our service will be second to none and we hope the citizens of White County and Searcy will prefer to do business with an Arkansas company.”

Area residents — especially students — will welcome the news, County Judge Michael Lincoln said.

“We’re just thrilled to be on the verge of reliable broadband service that will reach our diverse population and support our students,” Lincoln said.

White County, the state’s second-largest county by landmass, has presented challenges for companies trying to provide reliable broadband service because its topography includes hills and a delta, Lincoln said.

“A lot of our kids today have to pick up their devices and drive around to find a hotspot for service,” Lincoln said. “It will give them a more reliable service they can rely on and use at home.”

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