Thursday, July 21, 2016

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – By the end of the current fiscal year Arkansas will be one of only three states in the country in which every public school will have access to high speed broadband Internet connections.
            The Senate Education Committee heard the good news from the director of the state Department of Information Systems, which has been working with schools and Internet providers to make broadband available throughout the state.
            So far, 148 school districts are connected to the Arkansas Public School Computer Network, and the remaining 128 districts are on schedule to be connected by June 30, 2017. That is the end of the current state fiscal year.
            The director had even more good news for members of the Education Committee. The previous network cost about $9.7 million a year to operate and the new one will cost about $6.7 million annually.
            One reason the new network is providing more bandwidth for less money is that copper wires are being replaced by fiber optic lines, which can transmit data faster than copper.
            Legislators recognized long ago that Arkansas was behind the rest of the country in the availability of high speed Internet in public school facilities. Computers were changing almost every aspect of classroom teaching and unless we took dramatic steps we would fall even farther behind other states.
            In 1991 the legislature approved Act 1034, which authorized the Teacher Retirement System to lend the necessary funds to the Education Department to develop a statewide computer system linking all public schools. Since then the legislature has enacted numerous laws promoting and funding the public school computer network.
            One reason broadband is needed in every school is that students now take standardized tests online, or their tests are graded online.
            Teachers and administrators have been taking advantage of the availability of high speed Internet in schools, and the pace of technological changes in the classroom will continue to accelerate. 
            For example, last year the legislature approved Act 187, part of the governor’s package, to require all high schools and charter schools in Arkansas to offer courses in computer science. The act also created a task force to keep up with trends in computer science, and to recommend how best to introduce technological advances into the classroom.
            The definition of broadband is changing because of technological advances. For example, the Federal Communications Commission last year determined that its minimum standards for broadband established in 2010 had basically become obsolete due to advances in telecommunications.
In updating its standards for what legally can be called broadband, the FCC took into account consumer demand. People expect faster speeds from their computers, even as the experience of “surfing the Net” requires ever more capability to process data. The FCC also factored in the capacity and willingness of telecommunications companies to offer products that require faster and more powerful computers.
Many consumers take for granted that their computer devices, which include smart phones, will allow them to shop online, stream videos and play games. Colleges and universities have their own network to allow them to transfer enormous amounts of data quickly.
Telemedicine is rapidly changing the health care industry, both in how physicians treat patients and in how health care corporations seek out and bill clients.

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