School Broadband Projects Awarded

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 34 views 

Projects have been awarded to 22 telecommunications providers to improve the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN), which is the state’s broadband network for public schools.

The Arkansas Department of Information Systems (DIS) and the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) announced last week that all bids have been awarded for the improved network, which will ensure school districts will receive at least 100 kilobits per second per user. The access will be funded by ADE using the department’s existing $13 million broadband budget.

DIS Director Mark Myers said in a news release that his agency’s goal is to provide school districts with secure access and speeds up to 200 times faster than before.

A study by consulting group CT&T released in December showed that 65% of the state’s schools currently were meeting the 100 kilobits per second standard.

Improvements will begin in July, and most school districts should connect to the network by the end of the 2015-16 school year. The new network is expected to be fully implemented by July 2017.

APSCN’s limitations became more apparent as the state transitioned to new teaching methods and the Common Core State Standards. The network relied heavily on outdated copper wiring instead of much-faster fiber optics. As a result, a study released by CT&T in December found that the state was spending $283 for a megabit of connectivity versus $10 that local school districts were paying to add their own broadband services.

One proposed early solution involved connecting schools to the Arkansas Research Education Optical Network, which was used by universities and hospitals but prohibited by Act 1050 of 2011 from being used by public schools.

According to a news release from DIS and ADE, policymakers considered improving APSCN along with allowing each district to procure internet services individually. The news release said Gov. Asa Hutchinson directed the two agencies to improve APSCN based on recommendations from the national nonprofit group EducationSuperHighway.

Among the project awardees was Ritter Communications. The Jonesboro-based company was awarded a contract for 75 hubs between school district administrator offices to DIS headquarters in Little Rock, according to a news release from the company. Those include school districts in Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Jonesboro.