LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- A plan to improve the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN) to provide the state’s K-12 students access to high speed broadband was announced Wednesday, April 22, by the Arkansas Department of Information Systems (DIS) and the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE).
Over the last two years, numerous groups analyzed the state’s K-12 broadband landscape. Two primary options arose for improving the state’s network: 1) direct Internet procured independently by each district from providers; or 2) improvements to the statewide aggregated network. Based on recommendations from the national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, Governor Asa Hutchinson directed DIS and ADE to build APSCN into a statewide aggregated network.
“Now is the time to improve APSCN because the need for bandwidth and the accompanying tools and support will only increase as more and more students have the opportunity to experience project-based, hands-on learning that is integrated with technology,” said ADE Commissioner Johnny Key. “We simply can’t have an obsolete system with limited access. These improvements to APSCN provide a 21st century system that is scalable to meet the increasing demands.”
A competitive bidding process took place through the Office of State Procurement in February. In March, DIS issued a solicitation to give telecom providers a second opportunity to bid on projects in districts where no bid was received during the initial bidding process. All bids have now been awarded. Improvements to APSCN are scheduled to begin in July. Most school districts are expected to be connected to the improved network by the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The new APSCN should be fully implemented by July 2017.
“Our goal is to provide every school district in Arkansas with Internet access at speeds up to 200 times faster than ever before while ensuring high levels of security,” said DIS Director Mark Myers. “These improvements also could result in substantial savings to Arkansas taxpayers.”
When completed, APSCN will provide the state’s school districts with high speed broadband delivered over fiber optic cable. Schools will receive a minimum of 100 kilobits per second/per user of E-rate eligible, high speed broadband delivered over fiber optic cable, funded by ADE, at no cost to districts. This will put Arkansas at the forefront of the nation in meeting federal Internet access targets. It will be accomplished within ADE’s existing $13 million budget for broadband. It will maximize the impact of funding Arkansas will be eligible to receive under the federal government’s E-rate program.
Expanded bandwidth afforded by an improved APSCN will open doors to a new world of digital learning tools and experiences through remote collaboration with other students, video conferencing, and real-time video exploration of distant areas across the globe.
“DIS and ADE also foresee that bringing high-speed Internet into public schools could also generate a greater demand from residential and business customers of local providers, broadening the scope of learning opportunities, creating a better-educated workforce, attracting more jobs to the state and help Arkansas retain its best and brightest talent,” Myers said.
The investment in an improved APSCN underscores the state’s continuous commitment to providing Arkansas students with a world-class education and will elevate the state to the top of the class as a national leader in digital learning.