FASTER Phone Call Attracts 7,292

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 85 views 

The group that wants public schools to connect to a statewide high-speed internet network says 7,292 Arkansans participated in a teleconference town hall July 10.

The call was sponsored by FASTERArkansas, the group of business leaders appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to find ways of increasing broadband internet access in public schools.

FASTERArkansas wants public schools to be able to connect to the Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network, or ARE-ON, a statewide network for colleges, universities, health care providers and others. Public schools are prohibited from hooking up to ARE-ON by Act 1050 of 2011. The state’s telecommunications industry, which helped create the act, says it already has laid the necessary infrastructure and that ARE-ON would be redundant.

The call involved FASTER members Jerry Jones of Acxiom, Kathy Smith of Walton Enterprises, and Kendall Gibbons of Arvest Bank.

FASTER is planning a series of events next week to increase support for their recommendations. Events are planned July 15 in Fayetteville and Fort Smith; July 16 in Jonesboro and West Memphis; July 17 in Texarkana and El Dorado; and July 18 in Little Rock.

Jones, chair of FASTER, announced the figures at a conference of the Arkansas School Boards Association Friday. In an interview, he said phone calls across the state, a press release and word of mouth generated the high number of calls.

“If those numbers are accurate … I’m not sure there’s ever been a conference call like that in the state of Arkansas,” he said.

Jones said the group hopes to produce cost estimates for providing statewide access to schools “in roughly a month.” Separately, on July 7, the Arkansas Legislative Council, which is the group of legislators who meet when the full Legislature is not in session, approved a $71,500 contract with the consultants Picus Odden & Associates to try to develop cost figures.