DE QUEEN, Ark. - A rural Southwest Arkansas community is working to bridge the digital divide.
Sevier County community leaders say several areas of their county are still not being served with high speed internet.
Fast, reliable internet service has become essential for economic development, public safety, and education.
Cossatot Community College Chancellor Steve Cole says there are nearly 5,400 students in Sevier County that need access to high-speed internet.
"Broadband is not a luxury anymore, just like electricity was a fad at some point in time. Cell phones were a fad. Now you can not leave home without your cellphone," explained Cole.
Cole is also the chair of the Rural Development Authority.
High speed internet is part of their Five Point Strategic Plan.
Right now, he says there are many parts of the county not being served.
"Over 6,500 households have internet speeds less than 10 mb per second. That's an issue. It's something as community leaders we want to address," said Cole.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson recently released a plan to expand access to high-speed broadband communities with more than 500 residents by 2022.
Cole says the county has considered applying for a multi-million dollar USDA grant to provide high-speed internet, but says it can be difficult to obtain.
"Those reports are very expensive to produce, therefore even to apply for the grant, doing your work on the front end, might cost tens of thousands of dollars," said Cole.
Cole says their best option is to find an interested provider who can bring broadband to the area.
Their goal is to get a minimum speed of 25 mega bits download and three megs upload.
Within the next five years, Cole says they'd like to have better broadband access. He says it's a must have, not just for businesses and industries, but for all households.
"It doesn't take long to figure out if you have broadband you become a major player and you help your community. You're quality of life improves," said Cole.
Research shows that Arkansas ranks near the bottom of internet-connected states.
According to broadband now, the state's ranking is 48.
Louisiana ranks 36th, and Texas ranks 30th.