By Tori Moss, Marketing & Communications Director, North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Inc., Salem, Ark.

North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NAEC) formed its fiber optic subsidiary NEXT, Powered by NAEC in November 2015, to bring high-speed internet to the co-op’s more than 29,000 members.

“When NAEC brought electricity to our area more than 75 years ago, it was considered the next greatest thing,” CEO Mel Coleman said. “Now, we are responding to our neighbors’ needs again by bringing them the next greatest thing – high-speed internet. Access helps our students, businesses, and communities thrive in today’s competitive world.”

The existing telecommunications provider in NAEC’s mostly rural service area seems to invest limited amounts in the existing infrastructure. Rural residents often contend with unreliable, slow internet service. In some areas, the existing provider no longer connects new subscribers as the infrastructure will not support the added demand. This limits or completely curtails the ability to conduct business from home, complete schoolwork or use telemedicine services.

These were a few of the factors that led the board to approve the NEXT pilot project in three areas of NAEC’s territory. Once built, the pilot was deemed a success as it exceeded the goal set for subscribers and the NAEC Board of Directors approved the expansion of NEXT to all co-op members in June 2018. Construction of NEXT’s fiber-optic network is ongoing and is expected to reach all members by the end of 2023.

“We hear daily from members wanting high-speed internet and about the economic and educational benefits it can bring,” Coleman said. “We are excited to be our members’ local source for reliable, affordable, high-speed internet moving forward.”

More information on NEXT may be found at