As more vocal calls for Arkansas to invest in fiber-optic broadband networks for its K- 12 schools surface, Governor Mike Beebe is touting a new partnership on the subject in his weekly radio address. The Governor says the state Education Department, other state agencies and the national non-profit EducationSuperHighway are partnering to look at ways to cheaply and effectively bring the state up to meet national goals by the year 2018.
“The group believes that Arkansas can become the first state in the country to meet the national goal of linking every student to high-speed broadband and in-school WiFi. And, above all, we can do it without needing to raise taxes or cut other programs,” says Beebe.
In recent months, several state legislators, the Walton Foundation and other business leaders, as well as school districts around the state, have echoed the Governor’s call for opening up the state’s fiber-optic network—known as ARE-ON—to public schools. Currently, only state hospitals and universities have access to the network.
In his address, Governor Beebe points to a report by the nonprofit which says Arkansas could become a leader in creating a state-wide high-speed internet network for all its school districts.
“Fifty-one percent of our school districts do have sufficient broadband access to meet the current federal standard. This surpasses the national average of 37 percent. However, only one Arkansas school district has the fiber-optic network to meet the national goal for Internet capacity by 2018. We are beginning our work now to help our schools keep up and advance nationally in our capacity for this vital educational resource,” he says.
Beebe says EducationSuperHighway is partnering with the state to look into ways to provide faster broadband to schools. According to the Governor, the state currently spends 15 million dollars a year on copper wire broadband infrastructure for schools. He says federal matching grants can be used to redirect that money into a more cost-effective fiber-optic network.