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CARES Act Steering Committee Awards $5.18 million to Expand AR PBS Broadcast Coverage

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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. 

We recently conducted a technical study revealed that our network’s broadcast signal reaches roughly 76 percent of the population of Arkansas, and the extended airwaves this grant will enable us to serve will reach part or all of 31 counties that previously received a very weak or no signal.

Last spring, when schools were dismissed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were proud to work closely with the Arkansas Department of Education to develop and produce “Arkansas AMI,” Alternative Methods of Instruction, to keep The Natural State’s pre-K-8th grade students learning from home. These broadcasts helped fill the void for students who did not have Internet access, either due to unavailability or its expense. However, unfortunately, there were still gaps in the coverage for many students. We’re thrilled that 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,” Arkansas PBS Executive Director and CEO Courtney Pledger said. “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 of Arkansas, 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 funds the CARES Act Steering Committee has allocated will allow Arkansas PBS to upgrade aging technology and expand our existing footprint of six broadcast sites and 12 microwave sites to include four more transmitter sites

Detailed expanded coverage map

Our 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.
  • The Arkansas River Valley extending west through the Ouachita National Forrest to the Oklahoma state line. .
  • The plains extending from Forrest City east through to West Memphis and the Tennessee state line. .
  • The Southwest corner of Arkansas, extending from Mena through Hope, to Magnolia and including Texarkana.
  • The four additional transmitters we will add will fill the majority of these existing gaps, and nearly 100 percent of Arkansans will be able to benefit from our early childhood programming, Arkansas AMI broadcasts and vital COVID-19 specials and updates.

    The process to make these changes will include identifying available broadcast spectrum, obtaining FCC permissions 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.

    We look forward to sharing more as this project develops, and we can’t wait to have even more of our Arkansas neighbors watching with us every day!