Arkansas schools lauded for Internet connectivity

A national report Tuesday heralded Arkansas public schools' Internet connectivity as an example for other states looking to improve broadband for kindergarten-through-12th-grade students.

Students in 98 percent of Arkansas' school districts have access to Internet speeds of 1 megabit per second, according to EducationSuperHighway, an organization founded in 2012 to promote Internet connectivity in public schools.

The mark is significant, according to the national nonprofit, because it allows every teacher in a school to use digital learning resources on a daily basis. One megabit equals 1,000 kilobits, and both units are used to describe the amount of data moved in a network.

In 2014, Arkansas' public schools system fell short of the Federal Communication Commission's minimum connectivity target of 100 kilobits per second, but in four years, the Natural State has partnered with 21 service providers to increase network capability 40-fold by replacing copper connections with fiber. Every school in Arkansas now meets the FCC's minimum recommendation of 2014; but the FCC has upgraded the goal to 1 megabit per second.

"We commend Governor [Asa] Hutchinson and his administration for the extraordinary progress toward meeting the demand of today's digital classrooms in Arkansas," said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. "I am pleased that the governor is leading the way in connecting students to 1 Mbps of Internet access that lets educators leverage technology in every classroom, every day."

Since taking office in 2015, Hutchinson has prioritized computer science education and connectivity in Arkansas schools.

"In Arkansas, our students are developing 21st century skills in the classroom to succeed in tomorrow's workforce," Hutchinson said. "This requires high-speed Internet access in every school -- which is why we upgraded the Arkansas Public School Computer Network and can now provide 1 Mbps per student to 98% of school districts."

EducationSuperHighway's 2018 State of the States report found that 44 million students nationwide now learn in classrooms with high-speed Internet, an increase from only 4 million five years ago. The 1 mbps speed has been achieved by 28 percent of all school districts.

The trend has been helped by the FCC, which in 2014 updated its "E-rate" program to help schools and libraries with Internet service costs.

EducationSuperHighway said in the report that the next step will be connecting classrooms in the most rural areas to high-speed Internet. In Arkansas, only three rural school districts lack scalable broadband, according to the report.

EducationSuperHighway is focused on upgrading Internet access in public schools across the U.S. It works with governors and federal officials, connecting them with Internet service providers. Its services are offered free of charge, and it's funded by a handful of foundations that include groups associated with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Metro on 10/03/2018

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