After considerable planning, the Arkansas Public School Computer Network has been upgraded and now offers high-speed broadband at 200Kbps. The Fort Smith school district was the first to make use of the upgraded service.
The project cost $65 million to upgrade school networks across Arkansas. Over 230 school districts and charter schools across the state will soon have their own Internet broadband upgraded. The average speed for Arkansas is 5Kbps.
Arkansas' newly upgraded Internet speed network became available to Fort Smith schools last Wednesday, according to GovTech, which allowed students and teachers the use of an Internet that's forty times faster their previous network. Arkansas Department of Information Systems Director Mark Myers said the $65 million initiative is worth it:
"That equipment is expensive and that connection is expensive, but it's what the students of Arkansas deserve."
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key reinforced the state's need for faster, more reliable Internet:
"If you look at a map of Arkansas, you can tell where our gaps were. If you look especially in western Arkansas between here and Texarkana, a lot of school districts just didn't have the access to broadband they needed. This is going to give those students an opportunity they've not had before."
Fort Smith schools superintendent Benny Gooden welcomed the upgrade as another step toward relevance and global competitiveness:
"If our students today are going to compete with students all over the world, they're going to have to have these kinds of skills, and we're going to have to have the speed," he said."That's what this network does."
Gooden highlighted that today's students are taking their exams and test online, meaning that faster Internet could facilitate online testing. The Fort Smith district, which has about 14,000 students, owns more than 13,000 one-to-one devices.
Two primary factors led to Fort Smith being chosen as the first school district to implement the upgrade, Mark Myers said.
"One, Fort Smith had a contract that was expiring and we could step in and fill that void. "Two, Cox (Communications) was already a provider here."
The 200Kbps network uses fiber optic cable to deliver high-speed Internet to replace the slower copper wire network. The multi-dollar initiative for the state of Arkansas was delayed due to an impasse between the telecommunication company CenturyLink and the state of Arkansas.
"We want to follow the state's requirements and we want to follow the E-rate requirements," Jeff Jones, CenturyLink's market development manager previously commented. "We're just being very judicious about following the rules."
CenturyLink was concerned that Arkansas' procurement process for an Internet upgrade wasn't following federal rules. The company sought information from the Federal Communications Commission to ensure federal law compliance.
Now that the issue has been resolved, CenturyLink will connect 31 school districts across Arkansas to high-speed Internet, a project that costs about $4.65 million.