Thursday, April 30, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – All bids have been awarded to telecommunications contractors and work is set to begin this summer on an ambitious statewide project to enhance broadband capacity in Arkansas public schools.
            The goal is to provide Internet access that will not only meet national standards but also exceed them so that Arkansas schools can plan improvements in technology offerings far into the future. In some schools, Internet access will be 200 times faster than it has been.
            The Departments of Education and Information Services shared in the announcement of the campaign to expand broadband access. The Education Commissioner said that improvements carried out over the next year will allow schools to meet the increasing demands of changes in technology.
            Schools will offer more classes in computer technology and more students will participate in “hands-on” projects that require them to use technology, the commissioner said. One result will be a growing demand for bandwidth.
            Broadband and bandwidth refer to the transmission of data. The Arkansas Public School Computer Network will transmit data over fiber optic cables. Officials expect that most campuses will be connected to the improved network by the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The project will be totally complete by July of 2017.
            The director of the Department of Information Services said that the improvements will increase Internet capacity in schools and also strengthen security.
            Greater Internet capacity will allow students in different schools to collaborate on projects. It will open opportunities for more video conferencing and long distance learning.
            As consultants and experts worked on how Arkansas could most effectively expand broadband access, they narrowed the possibilities down to two options.
One option was for each school district to contract with telecommunications providers. The other option was for state government to make improvements to the aggregate statewide network. The administration chose the second option, and last week’s announcement was the culmination of a bidding process that took place in February and March.
All bids have been awarded and work is scheduled to begin in July. When complete, the project will provide all districts with high speed Internet access over fiber optic cable. Schools will have at least 100 kilobits per second of capacity for each user. A kilobit is a measure of digital information.
There will be no cost to school districts because the Education Department has budgeted $13 million for the improvement project.
Completion of the project will place Arkansas at the forefront of national efforts to provide digital learning to all students.
Over the past two years business leaders have joined educators in studying how to expand broadband access in public schools from kindergarten through grade 12. One of their conclusions was that fiber optic cables were much more cost effective than copper lines.  They also found that fiber optic cables would allow schools to meet growing demand for bandwidth as they add computer courses.
The business and education organizations also concluded that it would be more cost effective to build an improved statewide network that could take advantage of economies of scale, rather than relying on a system in which individual school districts contract with telecommunications companies.

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