FASTERArkansas Calls for Better Broadband in Schools

Fayetteville -- Local schools are getting involved in a statewide effort to increase internet access for students.

Arkansas ranks near the bottom of the country for high speed internet access and digital learning, and the Governor formed the FASTERArkansas committee to find a fix.
The organization kicked off a statewide tour at the Fayetteville Town Center Tuesday, bringing awareness to the issue and offering a solution.

"Our state pays, on the average, 3 times more for broadband and less access than other states," says FASTERArkansas Vice-Chair Kathy Smith. "We wanted to address that and see if we could improve that."

Devices like tablets and laptops are becoming more and more common in the classroom, and the cost to connect them is going up, says Susan Norton, Executive Director of Information Systems for Fayetteville Public Schools. Norton says the district is spending more than $300,000 on broadband this year, and the current system is not sustainable.

"We have a pretty fast-paced curriculum that involves digital literacy skills," she says. "We're doing fine in Fayetteville because we have access, but it's gotten to be cost prohibitive to be able to maintain the enhanced broadband that we need. Other districts in Arkansas do not even have providers that can deliver the bandwidth for them."

Smith says ARE-ON, the Arkansas Research Education Optical Network, is a taxpayer funded network that already connects universities and medical institutions, but state law blocks K-12 schools from using it.

"There are 42 states that have an ARE-ON-like network, an optical network," Smith says. "Of those 42, Arkansas is the only one that restricts K-12 access."

Smith says opening the network to schools would greatly increase broadband access at a lower cost, but it would also allow schools to use internet2, a content rich network where students can participate in real time with scientists and others in the field worldwide.

For more information on FASTERArkansas, visit this site.

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