University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Broadband in Arkansas Schools Picking Up Speed

In The View from the OEP on May 13, 2015 at 10:02 am

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Arkansas public schools will be getting faster, more secure and cost-effective Internet access through a seemingly unlikely source… APSCN.  More than 20 telecommunication contractors will begin work this summer to connect the state’s school districts to the aggregate network using fiber optic cable, an effort that gained momentum from an influx of federal funds to improve all students’ access to technology-based learning. Most districts will be connected by the end of the 2015-16 school year, and the overall project will be completed by July 2017, according to a joint news release from the state’s information systems and education agencies.

No one disputed that Arkansas schools needed better broadband to prepare students to prosper in a high-tech world, but studies sponsored by various interests differed on the best way to structure and pay for a system that can grow along with the demand. DIS Director Mark Myers and ADE Commissioner Johnny Key wrote in a recent editorial that Governor Asa Hutchinson instructed their departments to pursue the statewide aggregated network approach.

The Arkansas Public Schools Computer Network began in 1992 as an administrative tool for school districts and ADE, an era when the need for Internet service to every child in every classroom seemed extravagant. APSCN eventually added Internet access to its service offerings, but districts turned to private providers for additional bandwidth when demand outgrew the capacity of the APSCN system.

Though DIS and ADE routinely sought bids for Internet service, the invitation this spring was more attractive to vendors of all sizes who could bid to provide service to any number of districts and for multi-year contracts that would allow cost increases as demand grows.  The state’s effort is aimed at connecting school districts to central hubs around the state, and districts are responsible for connecting their schools to the district hub. Most of the cost is expected to be reimbursed through federal funding, including e-rate dollars.

Work is set to begin July 1, and Arkansas schools may soon lead the nation in offering computer science education and the infrastructure to make it happen.

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