Arkansas PBS awarded $5.18 million to help universal broadcast coverage

The Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee has recommended that Arkansas PBS be awarded $5.18 million from the CARES Act COVID Fund to help achieve near universal public television broadcast coverage in the state. 

A recent technical study revealed that the network’s broadcast signal reaches roughly 76 percent of the Arkansas population, and the extended airwaves will reach part or all of 31 counties that previously received a very weak or no signal.

When schools were dismissed in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arkansas PBS worked closely with the Arkansas Department of Education to develop and produce “Arkansas AMI,” Alternative Methods of Instruction, to keep pre-K-8th grade students learning from home. These broadcasts helped fill the void for students who did not have internet access, whether due to availability or associated expense. However, there were gaps in the coverage for many students. This funding will address that gap.

“The hallmark of public media is its availability to all, and the state network model has proven to be the most efficient when it comes to serving rural populations in largely rural states,” said Arkansas PBS Executive Director and CEO Courtney Pledger. “Many Arkansas families live in areas without broadband coverage, or cannot afford cable, satellite or broadband, the very families most in need of our educational programming and services.

“We are deeply grateful for this vital infrastructure support and eager to increase our service to Arkansas students, parents and families in this challenging time and beyond. We vow to keep our essential services front and center in Arkansas communities.”

The Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee was created to study and analyze the relief available to the state of Arkansas, its citizens and businesses under the CARES Act; identify and prioritize the needs of the state, its citizens and businesses for the application of available relief; identify the most efficient practices and procedures to obtain and apply available relief; and to make recommendations to the governor on best uses of the CARES Act funding.

The allocated funds will allow Arkansas PBS to upgrade aging technology and expand its existing footprint of six broadcast sites and 12 microwave sites to include four additional transmitter sites. The technical study highlighted four significant areas in need of broadcast signal coverage:

  • The northern valley region of Harrison and Mountain Home extending from the Ozark National Forrest north to the Missouri state line area.
  • The Arkansas River Valley extending west through the Ouachita National Forrest to the Oklahoma state line.
  • The plains extending from Forrest City east through West Memphis and to the Tennessee state line.
  • The Southwest corner of Arkansas, extending from Mena through Hope, to Magnolia and including Texarkana.

The four additional transmitters will fill the majority of existing gaps, and nearly 100 percent of Arkansans will be able to benefit from the network’s early childhood programming, Arkansas AMI broadcasts and vital COVID-19 specials and updates.

The process will include identifying available broadcast spectrum, obtaining FCC permission and acquiring tower sites and transmitters, among other implementation tasks.

Arkansas PBS has been working for months to increase coverage through cable and satellite carriage. Beginning Aug. 1, Arkansas PBS will be available on OzarksGo cable system in Baxter and Fulton counties on Channel 20. Earlier this year, the network added cable channels in West Memphis and Texarkana.

Arkansas PBS is Arkansas’s only statewide public media network, which enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. Arkansas PBS delivers daily, essential, local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers through multiple digital platforms, including on-demand services and YouTube TV, and the distinct channels Arkansas PBS, Arkansas PBS Create, Arkansas PBS KIDS, Arkansas PBS WORLD and Arkansas PBS AIRS on SAP. Members with Arkansas PBS Passport have extended on-demand access to a rich library of public television programming. Arkansas PBS depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. 

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