In the early 1990s, Arkansas began to invest in technology for its K-12 system by developing the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN) — and now the system needs improvement.
Asa Hutchinson, the new governor of Arkansas, recognized the need, and now Arkansas is launching a $13 million per year upgrade to its fiber infrastructure that will improve educational access and provide a link for more broadband development, writes Colin Wood of Government Technology.
"The governor as part of his campaign made a big push to do computer science education in the schools within four years," Arkansas Chief Technology Officer Mark Myers said. "In order to do that at any real level, you have to have broadband capability in the 21st century."
In April contracts were awarded to bidding vendors including both small one-town telephone companies to large corporations like AT&T. In July, the vendors will begin connecting all but two of the state's 276 school districts, charter schools, and educational co-ops to the state's network. The project will be completed by July 2017, with most facilities connecting within a year.
The upgrade for schools will also be a boon for Arkansas residents. Arkansas is a rural state, and when rural areas get broadband up to 10 gigs, citizens will enjoy the advantages of greater bandwidth in their businesses and homes.
The plan is to bring 100 Kbps of bandwidth per student, which means faster connections for some schools and sufficient connectivity for some others. Myers says the goal is for every student to have a personal device. The upgrade is funded through the already-in-place budget of the Arkansas Department of Education.
The Arkansas Business website staff reports that when the project is completed, the APSCN will provide the state's school districts with high-speed, broadband delivered over fiber optic cables. Schools will be receiving a minimum of 100 kilobits per second/per user of E-rate eligible, high speed broadband over fiber optic cable, funded by ADE and at no cost to school districts.
Meanwhile, according to a press release published by the US Department of Agriculture, the USDA has funded three rural telecommunications infrastructure projects to improve broadband service in parts of rural Arkansas. Iowa, and New Mexico.
"These telecommunications providers will deliver enhanced broadband services to help attract and grow businesses, as well as to improve educational and health care services," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Time and again, studies show that affordable broadband offers increased economic opportunities in rural areas, which is why Rural Development is committed to delivering high-speed internet service to these communities."
The USDA will be providing a total of $35 million in broadband infrastructure loans. The Obama Administration has created the Broadband Opportunity Council, which through private investment has reached the President's national goal of providing 98% of Americans with high-speed 4G mobile broadband based on newly-released Federal Communications Commission data. Investment in rural America results in stronger rural communities and improvement in housing, community facilities, businesses, and infrastructure.
"Broadband access is as key to economic success today as electricity was in the 20th Century," Vilsack said. "The Administration's strong and deepening commitment to bridging the digital divide in rural America will be my focus on this Council."