FASTER Arkansas: Beebe Gathers Education, Tech Leaders To Evaluate K-12 Internet Needs

by Jordan King  on Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

A map of which K-12 schools are operating at bandwidth speeds of 100 megabits per second for every 1,000 students and staff members. Each dot represents a public school acting as a bandwidth distribution point for nearby educational facilities. (Photo by Source: Arkansas Department of Education)

While legislators have been getting an earful on the pros and cons of “Common Core,” bureaucrats and businessmen are trying to determine whether Arkansas has the infrastructure to implement the national education standards on schedule.

Members of FASTER Arkansas — Gov. Mike Beebe’s new task force whose acronym stands for Fast Access for Students, Teachers & Economic Results — and its sister committee, the Quality Digital Learning Study, are working to determine just how much broadband Internet is needed by schools overall and what will be necessary to participate in Common Core testing, a controversial piece of the standardization initiative pushed by the National Governors Association.

The Arkansas Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, legislators followed suit in 2011 and phasing in of the standards began in 2011-12. Testing under the new initiative begins in the 2014-15 school year.

The question may sound simple — do the schools have enough bandwidth or not? — but, of course, it isn’t as easy as counting whether there are as many desks as there are students. Preliminary findings by the Arkansas Department of Education indicate that a vast majority of school districts have Internet speeds that aren’t adequate, or won’t be by the fall of 2014, while telecom execs say the deficiencies won’t require drastic actions to solve.

“Certainly, no single provider serves every customer in the state, but through the combined assets of all the providers across Arkansas, there is ample broadband capacity to meet the needs of our schools, businesses, and citizens,” Ed Drilling, president of AT&T Arkansas and a member of FASTER Arkansas, said in an email.

Drilling also suggested that there is sufficient broadband infrastructure in the state serviced by ISPs that can meet the needs of the state’s schools.

“There are many schools that do not have the bandwidth to meet current or future needs,” Drilling said in the email. “But in most cases, it is not due to a lack of fiber or infrastructure.

The state has 150,000 miles of fiberoptic cable, he said, citing information from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and comparing it with the 100,000 miles of public roads in the state.

“While there are some schools that have not yet purchased the bandwidth they may need to meet current or future needs, providers like AT&T are ready to provide it,” Drilling said.

At a price, of course. And that’s another point of contention: Is the additional bandwidth worth the cost, which can be tens of thousands of dollars a year?

Ed Franklin, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, chairs the Quality Digital Learning Study committee. Franklin said he and the committee’s 15 other members will spend the next two months gathering data from a number of sources on the schools’ broadband needs, after which a consensus will be reached on which figures are most accurate.

How Fast?



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