By John R. Schirmer
Area business, industrial and civic leaders gathered at UA Cossatot Thursday, Oct. 18, for a presentation about improved internet service in Nashville.
Bill Hegmann and Layne Power of Southwest Arkansas Telephone Cooperative outlined what their company provides and said they are interested in providing fiber optic service locally.
Howard Memorial Hospital Chief Financial Officer Bill Craig, president of the Chamber of Commerce board, helped organize the meeting after an internet outage earlier in the year resulted in disruption of services at HMH and cost the facility thousands of dollars.
“We all struggle with internet connectivity at times,” Craig said. “You remember the frustration we had six weeks ago. Ambulances were diverted. We couldn’t access radiology in Hot Springs to read scans. We couldn’t finish lab orders. It meant we couldn’t take care of patients, and we had a significant financial loss. That falls back on me as CFO.”
Craig invited SWATC to discuss options with the executive team at HMH. “This is bigger than just the hospital. It’s my obligation as chamber board president to turn this into a community event.”
He received 82 reservations for the meeting, with lunch provided by HMH.
Hegmann gave a brief history of the company, which began at Texarkana.
“We’re trying to get fiber service to our customers. They love it. We try to do a good job of it,” he said.
Hegmann recalled a lunch meeting he had at Hope with Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville. Teague has long been a proponent of improved internet service for rural areas of the state.
Nashville is 8 1/2 miles from the end of the company’s fiber optic line, according to Hegmann.
The line would need to be extended about 10 miles to reach the hospital and provide service to those along the route, he said.
“It costs $55,000 per mile to extend. If we get commitments for two thirds of that over three years, we will do it,” Hegmann said. “Once we get here, we can sell service to others. All we’re asking is two thirds of the cost of extending the main line up Highway 278 and west to Howard Memorial on 371. That’s the first shot.”
After hearing from a number of prospective customers who live beyond the hospital, Hegmann said the company could extend the service area farther.
“We’re not perfect, but we try to do a good job. We’re a very good alternative. We’re ready to do it, but it won’t happen overnight. It will take about six months to a year,” Hegmann said.
Service is gig certified,
he said, and provides the same speed up as it does down.
In case of an outage, “We roll immediately” to restore servce.
Power said SWATC uses “multiple vendors for service to guarantee that our core will be up and accessible. If a cable here is cut, we would know already before you can contact us. We already have alarms. That helps with response time. You don’t have to call.”
Mayor Billy Ray Jones asked if the company is associated with AT&T. “No, not at all,” Hegmann said.
Jones said that everybody “is messed up with only one option. I’m for it,” referring to the possibility of SWATC offering service locally.
Business owners mentioned the importance of reliable internet service to them and their customers. Gary Dan Futrell of York Gary Autoplex said he has generators for electricity in the event of a power outage but no backup for internet service. “If the internet goes down, I’m gone. It costs us a lot more than [SWATC].”
Power and Hegmann fielded a number of questions. Many were so-called “geek” questions which Hegmann asked Power to answer.
Power said the company’s fiber optic service’s best “up time is 99.93 percent; 97.2 percent is the worst down time. We’ve had no system-wide outages since 2007.”
In addition to businesses, the company offers residential service for those along its route.
Craig invited those who attended to send feedback to him or to the chamber office.